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Jeff Bezos picks female aerospace pioneer to launch with him


Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos has chosen an early female aerospace pioneer to rocket into space in just three weeks

Cape Canaveral, Fla. — Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos has chosen an early female aerospace pioneer — an 82-year-old pilot who decades ago denied astronaut wings because of his gender — to rocket into space with her in just three weeks.

The company announced Thursday that Wally Funk will launch from West Texas on July 20, flying in a capsule for a 10-minute hop as a “guest of honour.” She will join Bezos, his brother and the winner of a charity auction, as the first people to ride a New Shepard rocket.

Funk is among the so-called Mercury 13 women who went through astronaut training in the 1960s but never went to space — or even NASA’s Astronaut Corps — because they were female. At the time, all NASA astronauts were military test pilots and men.

In an Instagram video posted by Bezos, Funk said she feels “great” about being asked to launch.

“Nothing ever got in my way,” she said. “He said, ‘Well, you’re a girl, you can’t do that.’ I said, ‘Guess what, no matter what you are. You can still do it if you want to do it and I love doing what no one has ever done.’

At 82, Funk will become the oldest person to launch into space. She will beat the late John Glenn, who set a record at the age of 77 when he flew on the space shuttle Discovery in 1998.

“No one has waited too long,” Bezos said via Instagram. “It’s time. Welcome to the crew, Wally. We’re excited to fly with us on July 20 as your guest of honor.”

Funk, a pilot, was the first female inspector for the Federal Aviation Administration and the first female air safety investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board. In the video he posted, Funk said he has 19,600 flying hours and has taught more than 3,000 people to fly.

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The Associated Press Department of Health and Science receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. AP is solely responsible for all content.

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