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Science

Flying Aggie Wally Funk Finally Goes To Space

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Photo provided
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An undated photograph shows Wally Funk standing with a U.S. Air Force jet.

At the age of 82, aviation trailblazer and Oklahoma State University alum Wally Funk became the oldest person to fly in space on Tuesday.

After volunteering for the “Women in Space '' Program in 1961, Funk became one of 13 women who were tested the same as men and qualified to become an astronaut during the Space Race. Despite their ability, the program ended.

However, the Flying Aggie fulfilled her seemingly endless wait of becoming an astronaut. She flew in Blue Origin’s rocket the New Shepard with Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, his brother Mark Bezos and Oliver Daemen, who became the youngest person to fly in space.

In addition to being one of the "Mercury 13," Funk has participated in air races, became a goodwill flying ambassador and has logged over 19,600 hours of flying time while earning multiple awards. Her accomplishments also include becoming the first female air-safety investigator for the National Transportation Board and the first female Federal Aviation Administration Inspector.

Her interest in flying came at an early age. In a 2015 interview with OSU’s Oklahoma Oral History Program, Funk said she jumped off her family’s barn in her Superman cape wanting to fly.

“I jumped off the barn, wiggled my wings, but nothing happened,” Funk said.

After Funk graduated from Oklahoma State University and earned multiple ratings, her first job was as a flying instructor in Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

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Blue Origin
The crew of Blue Origin's First Human Flight mission will launch on the company's New Shepard rocket on July 20, 2021. They are (From left): Oliver Daemon, Wally Funk, Jeff Bezos and his brother Mark Bezos.

Later on, when she was in the space program, Funk said candidates experienced difficult mental and physical tests.

“I went through a week worth of tests that you would never believe what they can do to our body,” Funk said. “Every orifice was checked, double-checked and something run through it except for our ears. What they would do with our ears, I was strapped in a dentist's chair, and they injected 10-degree water.”

Some of the tests included drinking radioactive water and swallowing 3 feet of tubing. Another test included her spending time in an isolation tank under sensory deprivation conditions, which she lasted a record-breaking 10 hours and 35 minutes before she was called out.

During testing, she became the first woman at the El Toro Marine Corp Base asked to experience the High-Altitude Chamber Test and the Martin-Baker Seat Ejection Test.

After the program stopped, she applied to NASA four times when the agency began to accept female candidates, but Funk was rejected because she does not hold an engineering degree.

While Funk stayed aware of opportunities to fly in space, she continued to further her career and pave the way for women in her field.

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