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Welcome to the crew: Jeff Bezos invites pioneering female pilot Wally Funk to become oldest person in space

Welcome to the crew: Jeff Bezos invites pioneering female pilot Wally Funk to become oldest person in space
Amazon founder and aerospace entrepreneur Jeff Bezos will take 82-year-old Wally Funk, a female aviator who undertook astronaut training in the 1960s but never flew to space, to join him on his test flight later this month.

“No one has waited longer. It’s time,” wrote Bezos in an Instagram post on Thursday, announcing Funk as the latest confirmed passenger to fly with him on the Blue Origin rocket. His brother Mark and an unnamed bidder who paid $28 million for the privilege will also fly on July 20.

The flight will see Funk become the oldest person to reach space.

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“Welcome to the crew, Wally. We’re excited to have you fly with us on July 20th as our honored guest,” he declared, noting that Funk undertook training in the 1960s, but didn’t fly to space – as the ‘Mercury 13’ Woman in Space Program never took off.

Funk said in a video on Thursday that despite her training, and the fact that she asked NASA to send her to space four times, nobody would take her and she didn’t think she would ever be able to go.

“They said, ‘Wally you’re a girl, you can’t do that!’ I said, ‘Guess what, doesn’t matter what you are. You can still do it if you want to do it.’ And I like to do things that nobody has ever done,” said Funk, who hugged Bezos in the video and declared that she could hardly wait to take off.

Former Ohio Senator John Glenn – who died in December 2016 – is currently the oldest person to have ever flown in space, after flying on NASA’s Space Shuttle Discovery in 1998 at the age of 77.

In 1963, Russian cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova was the first woman ever to have flown in space. The United States did not send its first female astronaut, Sally Ride, to space until 1983, 20 years after Tereshkova.

Blue Origin’s reusable New Shepard rocket will take off on July 20 from Van Horn, Texas for an 11-minute flight. The passenger capsule will detach from the rocket and go up to around 350,000ft or 106km, before parachuting back down. The reusable rocket booster will also return to the earth after separation.

Last month, Bezos said he had “dreamed of traveling to space” since he was five years old and expressed his excitement at going on the “greatest adventure” with his brother.

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