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Aeronautics pioneer Wally Funk to join Jeff Bezos on first crewed Blue Origin flight

Funk was a member of the "Mercury 13" group of women who underwent the same testing as NASA astronauts, but never went to space.

Wally Funk and Jeff Bezos plan their journey together.
Blue Origin screen capture by CNET

Half a century after passing all the tests to become a NASA astronaut, 82-year-old pilot and aeronautics pioneer Mary Wallace "Wally" Funk is finally going to space. But instead of launching in a NASA Mercury Project capsule as she had aspired to do in the 1960s, she'll ride alongside Amazon and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos on the first crewed flight of a Blue Origin New Shepard rocket.

Blue Origin made the announcement Thursday morning and Bezos posted a video of him with Funk on his Instagram account.

Funk was a member of the Mercury 13, a group of women who went through a little-known program that put 25 aspiring female astronauts through the same tests as the men who would actually go to space for NASA. She was one of the 13 who made it through and the youngest to do so, but the program was shut down before any of them could become actual astronauts. (CNET's Making Space series devoted a whole episode to the compelling story of Funk and the Mercury 13.)

Now she will join Bezos, his brother Mark and the yet-to-be-named winner of an auction who paid $28 million for the fourth and final seat on the flight, which will last about 10 minutes, including a few minutes of weightlessness just beyond the Karman Line (100 kilometers or 62 miles in altitude, conventionally considered the edge of space).

The current Dallas-area resident had originally been hoping to make it to space with a competing company. A decade ago, she put herself on the waiting list to fly to space with Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic. That company is now aiming to complete its final three test flights -- including one with Branson himself on board -- before flying paying customers.

Despite never joining the ranks of NASA's elite, Wally Funk still went on to amass an impressive resume as a pilot, the first female FAA inspector and first female National Transportation Safety Board air safety investigator.

Next up, she'll become the oldest person ever to fly to space when New Shepard lifts off from Blue Origin's west Texas launch facility on July 20.

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