Wally Funk confessed she would never make it to space due to gender before launch

Jeff Bezos 'having a dig' at Richard Branson says expert

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The 82-year-old US aviator will launch into space with Amazon founder Jeff Bezos on Tuesday as part of a four-person crew. Ms Funk will be the oldest ever astronaut to travel to space after she takes off on the first human flight of the New Shepard rocket launched by Mr Bezos’ aerospace company, Blue Origin. She always dreamed of venturing into space and in the Sixties was part of a the ‘Mercury 13’ programme to get female astronauts to qualify for NASA.

A total of 13 women were put through their paces in secret physiological and psychological screening tests conducted by Dr William Randolph “Randy” Lovelace, the chief of NASA’s committee on life science.

“They told me that I had done better and completed the work faster than any of the guys, so I got hold of NASA,” Ms Funk said as she discussed her career in a video posted online by Mr Bezos earlier this year.

The astronaut, who has at least 19,600 flying hours under her belt, was the youngest graduate of the program.

However, she and her female counterparts saw their dreams dashed, as the spaceflight tests, which were not authorised by the US government, were suddenly cancelled.

“I said I want to become an astronaut, but nobody would take me. I didn’t think that I would ever get to go up,” Ms Funk said.

In an Instagram post Mr Bezos said “no one has waited longer” than Ms Funk to enter space, adding: “We’re excited to have you fly with us on July 20 as our honoured guest.”

If all goes to plan the astronaut should finally achieve her lifelong dream of entering space later on Tuesday.

She will travel aboard a 10-minute flight to space scheduled to lift off at 2pm BST (9am EDT) from a “remote location” in the West Texas desert.

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Blue Origin said people will be able to watch the historic launch via a live stream, although there will not be any public viewing areas close to the launch site.

The Texas Department of Transportation will also be closing a section of nearby road in preparation.

Also onboard the rocket will be 18-year-old student Oliver Daemen, who will be the youngest person ever to travel to space.

The teen bagged his place aboard the rocket after an auction winner who paid £20million ($28million) for a seat on the flight gave it up due to scheduling conflicts, and will instead fly on a future New Shepard mission.

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The fourth and final crew member set to take off on Tuesday is Mr Bezos’ brother Mark.

Through Blue Origin, Mr Bezos, the world’s richest man, has been engaged in a space race with his fellow billionaires Richard Branson and Elon Musk.

On July 11 Mr Branson reached the edge of space after travelling 53 miles from Earth on his rocket Unity 22.

However, questions were raised over whether the Virgin Galactic founder had gone far enough into the air for it to be classed as space.

The space boundary is usually classified by the ‘Kármán line’, 62 miles above sea level, a height which will be passed by the New Shepard.

Mr Musk’s efforts have so far been the most successful, as he is the only one of the billionaires to send crewed missions into space.

In April his SpaceX company was handed a £2.1billion ($2.9 billion) contract by NASA for his Starship rocket to take astronauts to the moon.
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