Thousands of fans and friends celebrated Wally Funk Saturday in Grapevine for her historic space flight aboard Blue Origin.
Funk, 82, became the oldest person to go into space on July 20 when she boarded Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin rocket. The mission was six decades in the making, as Funk, known as a trailblazer for women in aviation and space flight, underwent a series of tests that were part of NASA’s first human spaceflight program, “Project Mercury,” in the 1960s.
Funk was one of 13 women selected to undergo the tests, known as the “Mercury 13." Though it is commonly held the group of women qualified to fly in space but were excluded because of their gender, Funk was adamant Saturday she was not selected because she did not have an engineering degree.
“It wasn’t because they [NASA] didn’t like girls. I didn’t have an engineering degree. That’s the problem,” Funk told fans as she signed autographs Saturday. “Get your engineering degree. All of you young ones.”
Still, the celebration Saturday drew hundreds who have followed Funk’s 60-year journey to travel to space. Grapevine Mayor William D. Tate commended Funk’s contributions to aviation and added her career was inspiring on its own while proclaiming Saturday as Wally Funk Day.
“I call upon her fellow Grapevine residents and neighbors to honor and recognize Wally’s ability to break gender barriers in a male-dominated profession and her positive perseverance and pursuing space flight despite repeated delays and obstructions,” Tate said.
The celebration Saturday included a parade with Funk riding in a white convertible before speaking to the crowd on Peace Plaza in downtown Grapevine, recapping the July 20 flight.
“Everybody was so fantastic that…you can’t believe it. I couldn’t believe it. I’ve been to a lot of places, but this was the most fabulous thing of my life was being with Blue Origin,” she said.
For 60 years, Funk has been a member of the Ninety-Nines group. The international organization includes licensed female pilots from 44 countries.