Meet the 82-year-old astronaut who flew on Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin flight 

Wally Funk reacts after receiving her astronaut's wings from Blue Origin's Jeff Ashby, a former space shuttle commander at a post-launch press conference after she flew with three crewmates on Blue Origin's inaugural flight to the edge of space.

Wally Funk was in the company of three other passengers onboard the New Shepard rocket, including Amazon and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos. Image: REUTERS/Joe Skipper

Sarah Jackson
Research Psychologist, UCL
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  • Wally Funk was one of three other passengers to join Jeff Bezos on Blue Origin's suborbital space flight on July 20.
  • She was part of a group of female aviators known as Mercury 13 who trained for space in the 1960s.
  • The 82-year-old broke John Glenn's record for being the oldest astronaut.

When Wally Funk joined Jeff Bezos on Blue Origin's flight to the edge of space, she became the oldest-ever US astronaut, edging out John Glenn. Here's a look at the career of the 82-year-old aviator.

Mary Wallace "Wally" Funk was born in Las Vegas, New Mexico, in 1939. Her passion for aviation began early in life.

Funk started making model airplanes from balsa wood when she was seven years old and had her first flying lesson two years later, according to the Amelia Earhart Hangar Museum.

Funk graduated from Oklahoma State University in 1960 with a degree in secondary education.

Soon after, she became the first female flight instructor at a U.S. military base, Reuters reports.

In 1961, Funk volunteered to join the Women in Space program, a group of female aviators undergoing testing and training in the hopes of becoming astronauts for the first human spaceflight program in the US.

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The privately-funded program was backed by NASA, though the agency didn't officially sponsor it. The group was called the First Lady Astronaut Trainees, or FLATs, but are perhaps better known by the name Mercury 13. Funk was the youngest among them.

The women underwent the same testing as their male counterparts, who were part of NASA's Project Mercury, according to Reuters.

The training was rigorous and consisted of several phases.

The first phase included 87 tests, ranging from "having to swallow three feet of rubber hose for a stomach test to having 18 needles stuck into your head to record brain waves, to drinking a pint of radioactive water," according to the female pilots organization The Ninety-Nines.

The second phase consisted of psychological testing, including a sensory deprivation scenario, and the third phase included a test simulating the gravitational forces of a spaceflight's lift-off and re-entry, according to The Ninety-Nines.

In the end, all of the women were denied the chance to go to space through the program, which was shut down.

a picture of wally today holding up an old photograph of herself
Funk will overtake former senator and NASA astronaut John Glenn as the oldest US astronaut. Image: Elizabeth Culliford/Reuters

All of their male peers, known as the Mercury Seven, went on to go to space.

But that didn't stop Funk, who applied to NASA in the 1970s, when the agency started training female astronauts.

The agency denied her all four times, which Funk attributes to the fact that she didn't have an engineering degree, according to the Amelia Earhart museum.

Funk went on to become the first female Federal Aviation Administration inspector, as well as the first female air safety investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board.

She has received the FAA Gold Seal and was one of the first 100 women to receive the Airline Transport Rating, according to the Ninety-Nines.

Throughout her career, she has accrued 19,600 flight hours and taught more than 3,000 students to fly, Funk said in an Instagram post.

She set another record when she boarded Blue Origin's spaceflight on Tuesday.

Funk overtook former senator and NASA astronaut John Glenn as the oldest US astronaut. Glenn was 77 years old on his last mission.

Funk was in the company of three other passengers onboard the New Shepard rocket, including Amazon and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos.


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Joining her were Blue Origin founder and former Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, his younger brother Mark Bezos, and Dutch teenager Oliver Daemen.

Besides this trip, Funk hopes to board another spaceflight in the future, next time with Blue Origin rival Virgin Galactic.

In 2010, Funk reportedly put down $200,000 towards a seat onboard a Virgin Galactic flight. Her agent confirmed to Insider recently that Funk is "planning to fly with Virgin Galactic too."

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