Stephens College alumna and aviation pioneer Wally Funk

Stephens College alumna and aviation pioneer Wally Funk talks to the media Tuesday at Stephens College. Funk became the oldest woman in space earlier this year when she flew on Blue Origin with Jeff Bezos.

The oldest woman to travel to space didn’t know who Amazon founder Jeff Bezos was before he asked her to join him on a flight.

“I have no idea why he picked me. I have no idea how they ever found my name,” said Wally Funk, 82, an aviation pioneer who will be honored Wednesday at Stephens College, her alma mater.

“I’ve never bought anything from Amazon,” she said, laughing.

She flew on Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin New Shepard launch vehicle July 20, becoming the oldest woman to rocket into space.

The Blue Origin aircraft reached an altitude of about 66 miles. Passengers experienced several minutes of weightlessness while floating around in the white space capsule, according to coverage of the flight from The Associated Press.

Funk described the brief space flight as the best accomplishment of her life.

“You’re sitting there, and you don’t even know you’re moving. There was never a bump on takeoff. ... Then we’re coming back, and ... Jeff was so clever. He had three engines underneath our vehicle. We landed at one mile an hour. So smooth.”

Funk was interested in aviation from a young age.

When she was about 15 years old, Stephens College officials visited her hometown in Taos, New Mexico, and invited her to attend the private school in Columbia. She attended Stephens College for two years to get her private pilot’s license before going to Oklahoma State University.

“When I was 2 years old, the folks had me at an airport in Taos, and I went right over to that DC-3 (aircraft),” Funk said. “And I started trying to turn a wheel, a nut on a wheel, and mother said, ‘What are you doing?’”

Funk said she told her mother, “I want to make sure that all the nuts are tight before this airplane takes off.”

Now that she accomplished her longtime dream of traveling to space, Funk is hoping to get back to being a flight instructor.

In 1959, she was a member of NASA’s Mercury 13, a group of women selected to train as astronauts. However, the following year, NASA decided that only men could join the space program.

But Funk continued to be a trailblazer for women in aviation. She served as a Federal Aviation Administration inspector.

In her time, she has taught over 100 people in 40 countries across the world.

“I’ve done a lot of firsts in my life. I can’t tell you everything because a lot of stuff I’ve forgotten,” Funk said.

Funk will be honored Wednesday at Stephens College. A ceremony will take place at 6:30 p.m at the Kimball Ballroom of Lela Raney Wood Hall, 6 N. College Ave.

  • MU reporter, Fall 2021. You can reach me at pirpyw@umsystem.edu.

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