Wally Funk, 3 Guys, Ride Blue Horizon to Doorstep of Space

 In Sarah Byrn Rickman

Dateline: Tuesday, July 20, Colorado Springs…

Normally a late riser —never before 8 — I set my alarm this morning for 5:45. My friend and first fight instructor, Wally Funk, was lifting off on a Space Flight and I wanted to watch.

Wally posing in a space suit.

I was on the computer by 6:15 — 7:15 in Van Horn, Texas, where she and her three companions, including flight sponsor Jeff Bezos, were about to board Blue Horizon for the 11-minute flight.

In 1961, Wally was one of the Mercury 13, the skilled women pilots who underwent the same series of physical and psychological tests as those given to the Mercury 7, the male pilots who were America’s first astronauts. The tests were to determine if women, too, might be good candidates for space flight. These 13 passed with flying colors.

No Space Flight for the Women

NASA didn’t sponsor the tests. Private funding paid for the testing. The United States was not yet ready for women space pilots and crew. So the tests were halted. Those 13 women were never considered for the astronaut corps, therefore none of them flew in space — until today. This morning, Wally went on a space flight that took her and her three male companions above the Kármán line — an altitude of 100 km (62 mi) above sea level, which is conventionally used as the start of outer space in space treaties and for aerospace records keeping. [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Outer_space]

Wally, Jeff & Mark Bezos, Oliver Daemen ‘Touch’ Brink of Space

Having achieved that goal, the space capsule carrying them came right back down as planned.

The Mercury 7 astronauts were Alan Shepard, Gus Grissom, Scott Carpenter, Deke Slayton, Wally Schirra, Gordon Cooper and John Glenn — who became the first man to orbit the Earth — February 20, 1962.

The first American woman to fly in space was mission specialist Sally Ride, June 18, 1983. Eileen Collins was the first women to pilot the Space Shuttle — in 1995 aboard STS-63. She went on to be the first female commander of a U.S. Spacecraft on Shuttle mission STS-93, launched in July 1999. Many women astronauts have followed these two female space pioneers. Women now make up approximately a third of the U.S. astronaut corps.

52nd Anniversary of the July 20,1969, Moon Landing

July 20, 2021, is the 52nd anniversary of the first Moon Landing, — July 20, 1969. Today, Wally joined the “women in space corps”. And this year — 2021 — marks the 60th anniversary of the Mercury 13.  Jerrie Cobb was tested in 1960. Her success brought about the need to test more women. Wally and the other 11 were tested between January and August 1961. They were Gene Nora Stumbough Jessen, Bernice “B” Steadman, Rhea Hurrle Allison Woltman, Irene Leverton, Myrtle Cagle, Janey Hart, twins Marion and Jan Dietrich, Jerri Sloan Truhill, Sarah Gorelick Ratley, and Jean Hixson. Thus: the Mercury 13.

Wally and Sarah at Space Camp, Huntsville, Alabama,  May 1991

I met Wally at Women in Aviation in March 1991. Learning that she was currently living in my city of residence, Dayton, Ohio, and teaching flying at a small airport on the northwest side, I talked to her about lessons. I started flying with her April 1, 1991, in a two-seat Cessna 152. We took a few days off in May to attend Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama (my husband thought I was nuts!) and then flew through June.

Then life got in the way for both of us. For me, flying was an expensive pastime. Wally completed the work that had brought her to Dayton and was moving back to Texas. I did, however, take my son out to the airport for a lesson with Wally for his 23rd birthday, August 18, 1991.

My Son Texted Me — ‘Wally Is Going to Space!’

When the news came a couple of weeks ago about Wally’s pending space flight, he texted me. “Mother, have you heard? Wally is going to Space!” He delighted in telling his friends that he had “flown” with none other than Wally Funk — yes, THAT Wally Funk.

Wally and I remain friends. Today, we see each other as fellow members of Women in Aviation, International, and of the Ninety-Nines, the Organization of Women Pilots. I DID finally get my pilot’s license — 20 years later. Emerson Stewart III, at Red Stewart Airfield in Waynesville, Ohio, taught me how to fly a sweet little tandem, two-seat Aeronca Champ — yellow with a red belly. I joined the Ninety-Nines, a longtime dream of mine.

I was SO into Wally’s flight today because — like all her many friends — I knew it was her lifelong dream and desire to fly in space.

She’s Done It! And She Wants to Go Again!

For the Mercury 13, 1961 was the wrong time.

When the Mercury 13 underwent testing, the public wasn’t even aware that — in World War II — 1,102 women pilots had actually flown airplanes for the Army Air Forces. For two years, they flew everything from puddle jumpers to fighter aircraft as well as a few bombers. Why were we talking about sending women into space, was still the attitude. Women belonged in the kitchen!

But we showed ’em gals. The WASP of WWII; the Mercury 13 – accomplished pilots all; the women military pilots who have been flying since the mid ’70s; the women airline pilots who also began to fly in the ’70s; the women astronauts who have flown in space since 1983; women attending military academies; female Army and Air Force Generals and Navy and Coast Guard Admirals.

Choice, STEM, Flight, Today’s Girls Have It All!

And today, our daughters and granddaughters have STEM, where they can study science, technology engineering and math — and anything else they choose to study — and not be the lone female in the class.

It’s been awhile since the ’70s and “We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby,” but we’re doin’ it ladies! And Wally did it for all of us today!

You Go Girl!!!

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Showing 2 comments
  • Carol Ann Benson
    Reply

    Great article, Sarah! Very good to know about these relationships. I hope you are sending these to my mom? She would love to read this. Carol Ann Benson (kow ALYCE S. Rohrer 44-4)

    • Sarah Byrn Rickman
      Reply

      Carol Ann, Thought I answered you. Sorry!!! Much appreciate your comments. I gave thought I gave Alyce’s new email addy to my marketing manager to add her to my mailing list. Maybe I’m mistaken.

      Is this her new address: alycerohrer@verizon.net ???

      If not, please again send me her new address and I will pass it on.

      Thanks!!!

      Sarah R

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