This Octogenarian Finally Gets to Travel to Space

Many of us have plans for our octogenarian years. Some of us want to spend time at the beach, others want to travel to places we’ve never been, and there are others who want to spend as much time as possible with their children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren. Wally Funk, 82, has plans of her own, and they involve traveling to space!

Funk Waits 60 Years to Travel to Space!

Wally Funk, a pioneer in space aviation, has been hoping for nearly six decades to go to space. Later this month, the 82-year-old pilot and flight instructor will finally head there.

In 1961, Funk was among a group of female pilots testing whether women were fit for space travel. They became known as the Mercury 13, and they passed many of the same tests as the men. According to Funk, who was put through extensive testing through NASA, she recalls them saying “Wally, you were outstanding. You stayed in (the isolation tank) 10 hours and 35 minutes. You did the best of the guys that we’ve had and of the girls.” But then she was notified by telegram that the program had been shut down. She applied to NASA four times, though she got turned down, she said, because she didn’t have an engineering degree.

On July 20, 2021, sixty years later, she’ll join the crew on Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket with Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, his brother, Mark, and the unnamed winner of a charity auction that yielded $28 million dollars. She’s expected to break John Glenn’s record as the oldest person to reach space.

Funk Makes Great Strides in Aviation and at 82, She’s Ready to Go to Space

Funk made it clear since her experience in 1961 that she had not given up on space. “I never let anything stop me. I know that my body and my mind can take anything that any space outfit wants to give me,” she said.

Since her participation in Mercury 13, Funk became the first female Federal Aviation Administration inspector and first female National Transportation Safety Board air safety investigator. She has logged 19,600 hours of flight time and taught more than 3,000 people to fly!

Today, there are Different Requirements for Astronauts

It is truly incredible that Funk is closer to her dream of becoming an astronaut today at 82, in this new era of billionaire-led space tourism, than she was in 1961 at 22 years old. For one thing, today, NASA has different requirements for its astronauts. For instance, prospective candidates can have degrees in other science fields, not just engineering. Age, physical fitness, and mental acuity matter less. Still, would-be astronauts have to pass some medical screenings and meet height restrictions. (Astronaut capsules are more spacious now, but they’re still a tight fit.) The preparation will be less grueling too. Blue Origin passengers will receive just a few days of training before the big day.

Earlier this year, when asked about the requirements for passengers who want to fly on his SpaceX capsule, Elon Musk said, “If you can go on a roller-coaster ride, like an intense roller-coaster ride, you should be fine.”

In a video Bezos shared on Instagram last week, he asks Funk about how it would feel to finally become an astronaut. She throws her arms around him and says, “I would say, ‘Honey, that was the best thing that ever happened to me!’” According to the Atlantic, “Bezos is a billionaire, made rich by a company that has come to dominate American life…Funk is, by all accounts, the sort of woman who, if history had been kinder, might have been the first woman on the moon. The rules of space travel in what we often describe as NASA’s golden age wouldn’t allow it, but the rules of space travel today, with its private rockets and eccentric billionaires, do.”

Wally’s biography, Race for Space, by Sue Nelson, is available on Amazon.com.Her memoir, Higher, Faster, Longer: My Live in Aviation and My Quest for Spaceflight, will be released next month.

How to Live Longer and Better

Life expectancy in the U.S. exceeds the global average, clocking in at just under 79 years. In 1900, it was just over 47 years, so we’ve come a long way.

Time Magazine published suggestions on how to live longer, and better. By reading about people like Wally Funk, you can tell that she has taken many of these suggestions to heart!

  • Throw away your lists: Howard Friedman, professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside, and co-author of The Longevity Project believes,“(w)e live in a self-help society full of lists: ‘lose weight, hit the gym.’ So why aren’t we all healthy? He suggests we throw away the lists! “People who live a long time can work hard and play hard. Under the right circumstances, it increasingly seems, so could all of us,” Friedman says.
  • Live in a city: Maybe you want to pass up the quiet of the country for the hustle and bustle of a city. Marie Ashdown, 90, who has lived in New York City for nearly 60 years, says go for it. New York has beaten down younger people than her, but Ashdown loves city life. “I have a fire in my belly,” she says. “We have the best and worst here,” says Ashdown. “We learn to cope, live on the defensive and conquer fear.”
  • Have good friends: A study in the journal Personal Relationships found that it can be friends, not family, who matter most. The study looked at 270,000 people in nearly 100 countries and found that while both family and friends are associated with happiness and better health, as people aged, the health link remained only for people with strong friendships.
  • Set big goals: Some seniors are achieving remarkable things. Take Ginette Bedard, 84, of Howard Beach, N.Y who ran the NYC marathon. Bedard picked up running decades ago as a way to keep fit, but she didn’t run her first marathon until she was 69 years old. “I was watching the marathon runners on TV and I was so envious,” she says. “I was thinking, I cannot do that, they are all superhumans.” So she decided to become one of them. She began training daily until she could run the full 26.2 miles, and she’s run nearly every New York City Marathon since. “It takes discipline and brainpower and dedication,” she says. “The running is hard, but the finish line is euphoria.” She now runs three hours every day along the beach. You don’t need to run that much, or even close to that much, but exercise is a good idea. Be sure to check with your doctor first!
  • Healthy eating may have a lot more wiggle room than we’ve assumed, and if there’s such a thing as a longevity diet, there may be more on the menu than seniors have been told. “I have my wine and ice cream,” says Bedard without apology. “It really is an issue of moderation,” says Peter Martin, a professor of human development and family studies at Iowa State University, who runs an ongoing study of centenarians.

Wally Funk (and the Others Described) are Doing Something Right! Follow Your Dreams and Don’t Give Up

Whatever the secrets are to her long life and drive to live her dream, Wally Funk is definitely doing something right. We hope her flight into space lives up to everything she hopes it will be!

Live Longer and Plan for the Future

Remember, as you are living life and doing what you are most passionate about to maximize your longevity, it is also a good idea to plan for your future and for your loved ones. Our firm is dedicated to helping protect seniors by preserving dignity, quality of life, and financial security. If you have not done Long-Term Care Planning, Estate Planning, or Incapacity Planning (or had your Planning documents reviewed in the past several years), or if you have a loved one who is nearing the need for long-term care or already receiving long-term care, please call us to make an appointment for a no-cost initial consultation:

Elder Law Attorney Fairfax: 703-691-1888
Elder Law Attorney Fredericksburg: 540-479-1435
Elder Law Attorney Rockville: 301-519-8041
Elder Law Attorney DC: 202-587-2797
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