Mary Wallace Funk, better known as “Wally,” one of 13 female aviators tested for a chance to fly into space in 1961, visited and inspired third-grade students April 6 at the School of Engineering and Arts in Golden Valley.
Funk’s love for flight began at an early age. The 77-year-old California resident recalls her parents buying her a Superman cape when she was 4 years old, and climbing to the top of the family barn and jumping off in hopes of flying.
“I knew I wanted to fly straight away,” she said.
Her parents and grandparents instilled in her a strong character.
“Don’t have any fears,” she recalls her grandfather telling her.
Funk’s grandfather had many insightful things to say, according to her.
“If you want to become smart, associate yourself with smart people,” she said reciting her grandfather.
Funk encouraged the students to always be nice and helpful to others.
Decades after attempting to fly off the barn roof, Funk and the other women participated in the astronaut candidate testing. They were sworn to secrecy, and became known as the Mercury 13.
Phase one of testing included 87 tests, such as having to swallow three feet of rubber hose for a stomach test, sticking 18 needles in her head to record brain waves and drinking a pint of radioactive water.
Jerrie Cobb, Rhea Woltman and Funk were the only women from the group to continue to phase two of testing.
Phase two involved psychological and psychiatric tests.
Funk spent 10 hours and 35 minutes, a record, lying still in a circular, eight-foot deep tank of warm water in an air-tight room with eight-inch thick humidity-proof and vibration-proof parameters. The conditions created a feeling of weightlessness.
Cobb and Funk continued to phase three of the testing.
Phase three consisted of a high altitude chamber test and the Martin-Baker Seat Ejection Test.
She also completed the centrifuge test, which simulates gravitational forces similar to those forces felt during lift-off and re-entry into space.
The female astronaut program was later suspended and Funk never made it to space because military men were instead chosen for the space missions.
“I don’t want you ever, ever to let some guy say, “You’re a girl, you can’t do that,’” Funk said to the girls. “Don’t ever let anyone put you down.”
Funk did not give up on her dream of flying into space.
She applied to NASA four times but was turned away because she did not have an engineering degree. When she approached a college in pursuit of an engineering degree, she was told to enroll in home economics courses. Funk never earned her engineering degree.
Decades after her potential trip to space fell through, Funk is on the list in Russia to fly into space on the Virgin Galactic Spaceship Two program. Funk will fly in WhiteKnightTwo, a four-engine, dual fuseable jet aircraft designed to carry SpaceShipTwo, a reusable, winged spacecraft that can carry up to eight people into space.
Funk said she will fly approximately 100 miles above Earth.
“That’s pretty good isn’t it?” she asked the students.
To learn more about Wally Funk, visit ninety-nines.org/wally-funk.htm.
Contact Gina Purcell at [email protected]