Who Is Wally Funk? Oldest Blue Origin Passenger Who Outperformed Jeff Bezos

Proving that age is just a number, octogenarian Wally Funk was described by Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos as "outperforming the men" ahead of an historic flight into space.

On Tuesday morning, 82-year-old Funk became the oldest person to go into space when the New Shepard rocket she shared with the billionaire took off from the Launch Site One, near Van Horn, Texas, on Tuesday morning.

While the suborbital flight is a dream come true for Funk, she had already made history as a pilot who broke barriers of both gender and sound.

Born in New Mexico in 1939, Funk's passion for aviation was lit as barely a one-year-old when she saw a Douglas DC-3 airliner, she told The Guardian in 2019. She went from making balsa wood planes as a seven-year-old to taking her first flying lessons two years later.

New Shepard Blue Origin rocket
The New Shepard Blue Origin rocket lifts off from the launch pad carrying 82-year-old Wally Funk on July 20, 2021 in Van Horn, Texas. Funk became the oldest person to travel into space. Joe Raedle/Getty

By 20 she was a professional pilot and became the first flight instructor at a U.S. military base, at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. She became the first female air safety investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board, (NTSB) and the first female Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) inspector.

But she was a pioneer in other ways. In 1961, she became the youngest graduate of the Woman in Space program, dubbed Mercury 13, as the race intensified six decades ago for humans to pierce the earth's atmosphere.

The women underwent the same tests as NASA's Mercury 7 astronauts. In one test, she showed her mettle by staying in a sensory deprivation tank without hallucinating, for 10 hours and 35 minutes—a record, RTE reported. However, despite her prowess, she and the other women were never given the chance to go into space.

On July 1, 2021, the Amazon founder shared a video of him telling a visibly moved Funk that she would be the third member of the Blue Origin crew as an "honored guest."

After a space apprenticeship of more than half a century, Bezos told Fox Business ahead of Tuesday's launch that she had "outperformed all the men" in testing in the 1960s.

He added that he and his crew "can confirm in her training here, that she's still outperforming all of the men, and she can out-run all of us."

Finally able to see the Earth from the perspective she had dreamed about 60 years ago, she has made history again, taking the record of most senior person in space.

She claims the accolade from John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth, who returned to space flight in 1998 aged 77 to test the impact of leaving the earth would have on older people.

At the other end of the age spectrum, the New Shepard crew had on board the Dutch teenager Oliver Daemen, who at 18, became the youngest person ever to fly into space.

Bezos' brother, Mark was also on board for the flight which took place at 9:12 a.m. EDT. before the capsule parachuted down from its apogee 10 minutes later.

Aviator Wally Funk
Wally Funk (R), is pictured in 2010 near Las Cruces, New Mexico. On July 20, 2021, she became the oldest person to go into space. MARK RALSTON//Getty