Blue Origin announced Thursday that the 82-year-old will take the fourth spot on the inaugural crewed flight of its New Shepard suborbital spacecraft, alongside Blue Origin founder Bezos, his brother Mark Bezos and the winner of an auction who forked over $28 million for the opportunity. (The auction winner’s name has yet to be announced.)
Funk will fly on New Shepard as an “honored guest,” according to a post on Bezos’ Instagram, which also shows Bezos revealing to Funk that she will join the mission. She then beams and yells excitedly.
Funk volunteered as a member of the “Mercury 13” program, otherwise known as the “Women in Space Program,” in February of 1961, which was a privately-funded effort intended to begin training women to fly in NASA’s earliest space programs. The 13 women in the program undertook all of the training and testing that the seven men selected by NASA for the Mercury spaceflight program undertook.
Funk even spent 10 hours and 35 minutes inside a sensory deprivation tank in one Mercury 13 test, outperforming famed astronaut John Glenn.
“I got ahold of NASA four times, and said ‘I want to become an astronaut,’ but nobody would take me,” Funk said. “I didn’t think I would ever get to go up. Nothing has ever gotten in my way. They say, ‘Wally, you’re a girl, you can’t do that.’ I said, ‘Guess what, doesn’t matter what you are, you can still do it if you want to do it,’ and I like to do things that nobody’s ever done before.”
Funk has extensive experience piloting aircraft, logging over 19,600 flying hours and teaching more than 3,000 people how to fly private and commercial aircraft.
“Everything the FAA has, I’ve got the license for. And I can outrun you,” she joked.
But Funk won’t need all that experience to fly on Blue Origin’s New Shepard vehicle. The fully autonomous spacecraft and rocket system is designed to allow virtually anyone to become an astronaut after just a few hours of safety instructions and training at Blue Origin’s facilities in West Texas.
It’s not clear if Funk will keep her plans to fly with Virgin Galactic as well.