A Dream Comes True
In the early 1960’s, NASA was ready to fly people into space. They chose from the ranks of the military test pilots. These men were called the Mercury 7 Astronauts because they flew during the Mercury program. They had gone through a great deal of testing to make sure they were physically and mentally able to withstand what had been predicted to befall humans in space. No one knew what the rigors of microgravity would do to the human body.
Did you know that women also applied? An amazing group of women pilots each with hundreds of flying hours applied for the Astronaut program. NASA declined to consider them. Not ones to give up easily, they decided they would put themselves through the same physical and mental tests as the men to prove they were qualified. They were able to obtain private funding and underwent physical and mental tests at the Lovelace Clinic and passed with flying colors. On some tests, they performed better than the men. They were dubbed the Mercury 13.
When they began to petition NASA, they were told they weren’t qualified. While they all had the requisite 1500 hours of flying time, none were test pilots. Test pilot training was not open to women in those days.
When I became an Astronaut in 1978, I had never heard of the Mercury 13 women. It was a delight when I was able to meet them at a NASA event. At the time, I had very little flying time and knew they had hundreds of hours. Of course, they realized I came to NASA not to fly the vehicles but to do life sciences research. These amazing ladies were not bitter and were so glad I would be going into space. One of those amazing women was Wally Funk.
When Jeff Bezos, the owner of Blue Origin was planning to send a capsule into space, he chose himself, his brother Mark, and an 18-year-old named Oliver Daemon who serendipitously took the place of someone else. He also included Mercury 13 member Wally Funk.
On July 20, 2021, on the 52nd anniversary of the moon landing, they took flight aboard a rocket named New Shepard, named for Mercury 7 Astronaut, Alan Shepard, the first American in space. As I write this blog, my heart is happy that the Blue Origin flight went off without a hitch. The launch was right on time and picture-perfect. The booster set itself down perfectly, the beautiful blue parachutes gently let the capsule down on the dusty flatland near Van Horn, Texas.
Since the flight went up to above 50 miles, I am so delighted to say:
WALLY FINALLY GOT HER ASTRONAUT WINGS!
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