She’s a woman in space. She’s now the oldest person to ever go to space. She’s crossed two eras of space travel in a span of ten minutes. She’s a Grapevine local.
And now, she’s being celebrated as a hometown hero.
Wally Funk, 82, boarded the New Shepard rocket from Blue Origin with Jeff Bezos and a crew of two other tourists (Mark Bezos and Oliver Daemen) to take off from Van Horn, TX for a ten-minute flight that the world watched on July 20.
Her native city Grapevine hosted a parade in her honor on August 7, 2021. Funk rode in a white convertible down Main Street — lined by a few hundred observers — seated with a mannequin in her Blue Origin flight suit. August 7th was hence proclaimed “Wally Funk Day.”
Surrounded by the businessmen (and the teenage son of a Dutch millionaire) aboard, Funk was the oddity of the crew — in the best possible way. Besides being the only woman crew member, the oldest crew member, and the actual aviator of the group, she represented the embodiment of two eras converging. following her streak of meeting every “you can’t” with an “I can.”
She got her pilot’s license at 17, and participated in Dr. William Lovelace’s short-lived Women In Space program at NASA in the early 1960s, an initiative designed to test women’s capabilities for space travel. Funk, at 23, was the youngest candidate among the 13 finalists of women who participated in the program (now known as the Mercury 13 or the FLATs: First Lady Astronaut Trainees).
None of those women ever made it to space, for being women and for not having engineering degrees.
Except — now, 60 years later — Wally Funk.
“The whole thing was so fantastic,” she said of the flight to the gathered crowd in Grapevine. She described small bump before she went up to float in space for three minutes.
“I had done that in Russia for about 15-20 minutes, so I knew what to do… when I was taking the Cosmonaut test. So that was pretty easy for me. But… I’ve been a lot of places, and this was the most fabulous thing of my life.”
Click here to read about another local hero in space: Commander Victor Glover Jr. from Prosper, TX!