COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) – Trailblazing aviator Wally Funk fulfilled a lifelong dream and made history today as the oldest person ever to travel to space.
The 82-year-old Funk trained as an astronaut as part of the Mercury 13 group in the 1960s. The 13 female pilots underwent rigorous testing and training to met the requirements to become an astronaut, but ultimately were excluded from space travel because of their gender.
Funk recently made a guest appearance at the Coca-Cola Space Science Center before her historic journey with Bezos on July 20, 2021.
Executive Director of Coca-Cola Space Science Center, Shawn Cruzen, said they were thrilled to see the space flight earlier today.
“We were very excited about today’s space flight because we did have a local tie to this actual space flight. We were all watching it obviously, so when we know something like this is happening, all the staff gathers around the computer and we all watch it together,” Cruzen said.
Not only were Cruzen and the Science Center staff excited to see the space flight but they were over the moon with joy to have a local tie to the spacecraft.
“Wally Funk, who was a pilot who had been a part of the Mercury 13, which is a group of women who are being tested to go to outer space. She’s actually visited here, at the Space Science Center before, so she’s been a guest of ours here. So we were very excited to see Wally Funk fly to space,” Cruzen said.
Cruzen told News 3 he would like for Funk to come visit again.
“We would love to invite Wally Funk back and in fact Wally if you’re listening out there, give us a call or we’re going to give you a call. We would love to have you come back, I suspect that she’s going to get a lot of invitations now to speak,” Cruzen said.
Cruzen believes this moment in history has inspired everyone across America.
“That really does send a great message, you’re never too old to make fantastic accomplishments. Even though you might be young you can still achieve great things and I think that might be a part of the message that’s tied up in this. So this space flight is really important, it’s a change in the way we look at space flight,” Cruzen said.
Those interested in finding out what outer space is like will be able to purchase tickets soon so they can participate in this experience.
“Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin have opened up a door to allow normal people to go to space. You don’t have to necessarily go through this rigid program, you can simply purchase a ticket and go to space. Yes, the tickets are expensive now but that’s the same way it was with airline tickets in the early days too,” Cruzen said
Space travel is expected to become an everyday thing in the next 50 years. Cruzen said he sees the future looking a lot like the 1960s sitcom The Jetsons.
“There are already projects in the works today where we’re working on actual tourism venues in space. There’s a company called Axium that’s working with the international space system, they’re already scheduled to send commercial astronauts for just a trip, a holiday basically,” Cruzen said.
With COVID-19 cases spiking up and the Delta variant on the rise, there could be some delays with this project.
“COVID-19 and the pandemic has paused many aspects of the space program, both with NASA and also with these commercial flights. Obviously, safety is the most important feature to take into account, so if there are new spikes in this pandemic. Of course, with these new variants coming around, that’s at least a possibility that, that could slow down the progress on all these things,” Cruzen said.