Wally Funk has finally gone to space, accompanied by the Bezos bros and Oliver Daemen aboard Blue Origin's sub-orbital New Shepard.
It has been a long time coming. Funk was part of the group dubbed the Mercury 13, a group of women who underwent what were essentially the same tests as NASA's Mercury astronauts. Infamously, the project was cancelled and none of the members ever flew in space.
It would take more than 20 years before Sally Ride became the first US woman in space in 1983. Over a decade later, Eileen Collins became the first female Space Shuttle pilot and, later, the first female Commander.
The mission was the 16th for Bezos' booster, and the crewed capsule was lofted to just over 107km (351,210ft according to the webcast), and hitting a maximum ascent velocity of 3,590km/h (2,231mph), returning to Earth by parachute. The mission elapsed time from engine start to touchdown was 10 minutes and 20 seconds. We hope it was worth it.
The booster itself made a successful landing.
This was the first time actual meatbags had been loaded into the capsule. The last mission featured a dummy dubbed "Mannequin Skywalker" and reached 105km above ground level (107km above sea level) with a maximum ascent velocity of 3,596km/h.
The flight follows beardy billionaire Richard Branson's jaunt to the edge of space and back aboard Virgin Galactic's rocket plane. Branson's craft took him (and chums) to a hair over 86km before gliding back to its New Mexico runway. Branson also waited until the fourth crewed flight to space before taking his place.
That altitude figure is an important one since the Kármán line (the boundary of space) is defined as 100km. However, the likes of NASA and the US armed forces peg it at 50 miles up (approximately 80km), which has led to some distinctly unsporting snark from Blue Origin as it became clear that Shepard was, once again, destined to be second.
For our money either is an impressive achievement, although we'd have to point out that NASA moved on from sending humans on sub-orbital lobs 60 years ago tomorrow, when Gus Grissom took a flight on the final Mercury-Redstone mission. Today's date also marks the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing.
Strangely, the sight of billionaires burning dollars to enjoy a glimpse of the Earth from way, way up has not been universally well received by those unlikely to be leaving terra firma any time soon.
Once Bezos is in space we are going to have just 11 minutes to change the locks on the entire planet. It’s going to be tight; we can do it.— Andrew Hunter Murray (@andrewhunterm) July 20, 2021
It would, however, be churlish to offer anything other than sincere congratulations to Wally Funk, regardless of how one might feel about Bezos and co. ®