Space Race Against Time

Blue Origin’s crewed flight will make a 60-year dream come true

Wally Funk will fly on Blue Origin’s maiden flight later this month, righting a long-standing wrong.

Space travel hasn’t always been kind to women, and few people know this better than Wally Funk.

Funk is a 82-year old aviator and NASA-tested space enthusiast. Funk’s illustrious career is somewhat overshadowed by a lost opportunity — she was part of “Mercury 13,” the privately-funded, women-only space group whose spaceflight was unceremoniously canceled in 1961.

But that’s about to change very soon.

Jeff Bezos announces Wally Funk’s involvement in his landmark Blue Origin flight.

How will Blue Origin impact Wally Funk?

On July 1, Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos shared a post on his Instagram page announcing that Funk will accompany him on his July 20 trip to space.

“I can’t tell people that are watching how fabulous I feel to have been picked by Blue Origin to go on this trip,” Funk said.

She will be one of four passengers on the historic flight, which will also be Blue Origin’s first crewed flight, accompanied by Bezos himself, his brother Mark, and Oliver Daeman, an 18-year-old high school graduate whose father won a seat on the second crewed Blue Origin flight. After the still-anonymous winner of the $28 million auction for the first crewed flight dropped out from “scheduling conflicts,” Daeman was chosen to step in.

Meanwhile, Blue Origin competitor SpaceX is preparing for its first crewed flight of all-private citizens, scheduled for later this year. Another competitor — Virgin Galactic — already flew its first crewed flight last week.

But by recruiting Wally Funk, Bezos is linking the old and new space race in a fascinating way.

Want to know more about the history of Mercury 13, how NASA held them back, and the 1962 congressional hearing that defined the space race for women? Read the full interview with space historian Dr. Margaret Weitekamp, only in MUSK READS+.

Modern spaceflight correcting 1960s’ wrongs

In the 1960s, Funk was one of the 13 women that took part in the Woman in Space program privately funded by William Randolph Lovelace, the scientist who also worked on NASA’s Mercury program that sent the first Americans into space — but after the Mercury 13 flight’s cancellation, none of the women ever went to space themselves.

“I'm very excited to see that Jeff Bezos has recognized the kind of wonderful poetic justice of giving Wally a seat on the vehicle that they are sending up later this month,” Margaret Weitekamp, curator and department chair of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s space history department, tells Inverse.

Funk’s flight is a sign, Weitekamp tells Inverse, of how Bezos and Musk weave their inspirations into their work.

For Musk, it’s all about science fiction. The Falcon rocket family is named after the Star Wars Millennium Falcon, while SpaceX’s autonomous booster-catching drone ships are named after ships from Iain M. Banks’ Culture series.

For Bezos, it’s all about the sixties-era space race. Blue Origin’s rockets are called New Glenn and New Shepard, both named after Mercury 7 astronauts.

As Bezos brings Funk along for the ride, it’s a sign of how this space race could be more inclusive.

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