July 20, 2021

Wally Funk has finally been to space. She's 82, and the oldest person to go there. (She broke John Glenn's record.) But she's also a remarkable figure and an inspiration to people who don't accept "no" for an answer. Via the NYTimes:

Her path to space arguably begins with a ski accident in 1956 that crushed two of her vertebrae. She was told she would never walk again. By age 17, she already had a history of greeting “you can’t” with defiant proof that she could. As she was recovering, a guidance counselor suggested that she take aviation classes to distract her. In the book “Promised the Moon” by Stephanie Nolen, Ms. Funk said that during her first flight up, in a Cessna 172, “The bug bit and that was it.”

That year she soloed and had her pilot’s license at 17. Ms. Funk flew at every opportunity, including sneaking out of a formal dance to go night flying. In all, she has logged over 19,600 flying hours and taught more than 3,000 people to fly. She has probably spent more time in airplanes as a pilot than the three men she is going to space with have spent as airplane passengers.

In her senior year of college, when she earned a trophy recognizing her as the most outstanding pilot, the airport manager gave it to her said, “Mark my words, if ever a woman flies into space, it will be Wally, or one of her students.”

She might have made it. She was one of the Mercury 13, a group of women who trained for a space mission, but never got the chance.

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