Women’s Aviation Groups Promote North Texas Space Travel – NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth

A hangar at Roanoke’s Northwest Regional Airport was packed with dozens of female pilots Tuesday morning watching one of their own, Wally Funk, make history.

At 82, Grapevine’s Funk is now the oldest person to travel in space.

She was one of four passengers on Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket when it exploded in space just after 8 a.m. on Tuesday.

Blue Origin, an aerospace company run by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, made its first flight with people on board.


Blue Origin

Jeff Bezos chose an 82-year-old pilot from North Texas who had been deprived of astronaut wings decades ago to fly into space with him.

Funk was personally selected by Bezos to join him on the flight, alongside Bezos’ brother. Another passenger, an 18-year-old Dutchman, was also on board in a winning charity auction.

“I’m so relieved. They just did an amazing job. My heart was in my throat, I couldn’t breathe,” said Jerry Anne Jurenka, pilot and longtime friend of Funk.

Funk is a member of the Women in Aviation North Texas Chapter and the Ninety-Nines Fort Worth Chapter, which are national organizations made up of women pilots.

Life around Van Horn, Texas

Locals hosted an evening vigil to watch their own beloved member and mentor finally break through the Earth’s atmosphere and get to space.

“Ninety-nine is about support, just like Wally gave me as a student pilot,” said Dr Monica Randolph-Graham, who is on the board of the national organization. . “Wally taught me so much about always having a dream. Never give up. She’s just amazing.

Funk has been flying planes for 60 years. His trip to space on the rocket is truly a complete moment in his life.

She was one of 13 women trained to be an astronaut for Project Mercury in the 1960s. The program was privately funded, but the women all underwent the same amount and intense training as NASA astronauts. have endured to prepare for space.

But that was at another time. Despite her training, NASA never accepted her or the other members of Project Mercury because of their gender.

Now, she’s the only member of Mercury 13 to finally go to space.



The ninety-nine

“This lady has done more for our organization and for the young pilots to come,” said Jody McCarrell, who has known Funk since meeting the Ninety-Nine in 1971 and judging the flying championships together. “She was my safety officer and I used to do a lot of events at colleges that have aviation programs. She’s always been 100% committed. She’s wonderful with these fresh young pilots. “

For 60 years, Funk has been an active and passionate member of the Ninety-Nines group, rich in history in itself. Amelia Earhart was the organization’s first president in 1931.

As Earhart has inspired generations of women to pursue a career in aviation, friends of Funk believe this rocket flight will inspire more young girls to chase their dreams in the sky.

“It was so inspiring to all of us. No matter what age you have to keep chasing your dreams,” said Deborah Hecker, captain of American Airlines and senior director of airline policies and procedures. “Dreams come true. Just keep following, no matter what obstacles stand in your way. You just keep going. And she has shown us the way forward so that we keep fighting and achieving our goals. C is just overwhelming. “

Hecker, who sits on the board of directors of Women in Aviation, said many of their local members see Funk as a pioneer of women in aviation and aerospace.

“Young women need to see role models, and she is definitely an amazing role model as a flight instructor and as a teacher who inspires us to achieve our goals,” she said.

In fact, many of them learned to fly thanks to Funk. During her lifetime, she taught over 3,000 students.

“She focused on young people and women. I first worked with Wally when we were working with an international flight school in Texas and helping to train young people,” said fellow pilot Stephanie Roberts. “One of the byproducts of knowing Wally and his vibrant personality is that young people experience the beginnings of human space flight.”

Outside of the visiting space, Funk was also the first female aviation safety investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration.

His friends are happy to see Funk selected – out of so many in this world – to finally accomplish something that has been close to his heart for so many decades.

“Every time Wally advertises or does another premiere for women, it creates another role model for young girls. It gives girls something to aspire to, ”Jarenka said. “It’s extremely exciting. It’s something she has always wanted to do. I am so proud of her. I can’t think of anyone more deserving of going to space. “


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