Tomorrow morning, Tuesday, July 20th at 8 a.m. CST, Wally Funk, who is 82 years old, is going into space with Jeff Bezos and his Blue Origin project.
In the aviation world, Wally has always been a hero and mentor. In 1960, she was the youngest of the first women chosen to be tested — in secret — with the same tests the NASA astronauts underwent before they were elected to go into space. Sadly, NASA and the U.S. government would not allow the 13 women who passed the tests to become astronauts. Wally was one of the “Mercury 13,” a name given to the women because the tests were orchestrated by Dr. W. Randolph II, who also administered the tests for the "Mercury 7" male astronauts.
Wally was the first female FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) inspector, the first female NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) air safety investigator, and has taught over 3000 students to fly. I am honored to say she was my flight instructor, but she was more than that; she has been my mentor and dear friend for almost 20 years. In 2003, I took my written private pilot test in Tennessee and drove to Texas to learn under her tutelage. We flew 40 hours in 14 days, between low-hanging clouds and raindrops, in the dark of night, in high winds, and on beautiful sunny days.
I soloed on October 9, 2003 after 9 hours of instruction. She was trying to get me through to a flight test within two weeks’ time, but it didn’t happen due to weather. The final road to holding that license in my hand was not all blue skies. That’s another story — and a half — and some of it not unlike certain things Wally faced in her younger days. But because of Wally and her steadfast optimism and belief in my abilities, I got my ticket (pilot license).
Now Wally has her ticket to space. Ask anyone who knows her and they’ll tell you that all Wally ever talked about, since she was a kid, was going into space. When most people would have given up their dreams, Wally never wavered. She staked her claim and bet her life on it.
Here’s To Ya, Wally Funk! Touch the stars. Relish the moment. Godspeed. From this day forward, you are an international star and inspiration to all.
For the rest of us on the earth, we have a mission: Be brave. Be bold. Take chances. Never give up on your dreams. You never know what waits around the corner if you choose to see it before you find it. It’s always worth a shot.
(Many TV and radio stations will be broadcasting the launch, but you can also visit https://www.blueorigin.com for coverage.)
1. Wally fling a Citabria as we did "some loops."
2. Wally Funk, Nanette Malher having a steak dinner (on Wally) after Nanette's first solo flight that day.
3. Wally Funk, Nanette Malher flying in a Cessna 150.