Wally Funk’s Race for Space

Sky at Night Magazine - - BOOK REVIEWS - NI­AMH SHAW is an en­gi­neer, lec­turer and science com­mu­ni­ca­tor

Sue Nel­son The West­bourne Press £14.99 z HB

Since 1961 Mary Wal­lace ‘Wally’ Funk has had the ‘right stuff’ to make the jour­ney into space. She was among the first group of Amer­i­can pi­lots to pass the Mer­cury 13 pro­gramme, which tested women un­der the same con­di­tions as NASA as­tro­nauts. But just one week be­fore the fi­nal phase of test­ing, as a re­sult of pol­i­tics and prej­u­dice, the pro­gramme was abruptly can­celled.

Un­de­terred, Funk de­voted the rest of her life to get­ting to space. She’s al­most 80 now and there are no signs of the veteran avi­a­tor let­ting up. In this book Funk and au­thor Sue Nel­son go on the road to­gether to visit such places as NASA, ESA and Vir­gin Ga­lac­tic’s Space­port. We learn about their time to­gether and their shared re­spect for all women who have de­fied the odds and lived life by their own rules.

The nar­ra­tive flows won­der­fully un­der Nel­son’s light and witty style. Funk’s en­ergy, sin­gle-mind­ed­ness and blood­y­minded de­ter­mi­na­tion is of­ten try­ing for Nel­son as her travel com­pan­ion, and the two clash over sim­ple things, much to the amuse­ment of the reader. The book points out that these char­ac­ter­is­tics are Funk’s great­est strength.

Nel­son’s de­sire for Funk to still make it into space is ap­par­ent, and she pleads the case well, as a friend as well as a jour­nal­ist. But is it too late?

“I wish I was born 20 years later,” Funk ad­mits. “Now I can’t do any­thing but sup­port space or lec­ture in schools about STEM. But honey, I wouldn’t change my life for one minute.”

This is a truly in­spir­ing book about friend­ship, women’s place in the his­tory of avi­a­tion and space and the cost of a dream.

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