National Post (National Edition)

Female pioneer joins Bezos on frontier


Jeff Bezos is set to blast off into space Tuesday but said he had been outperform­ed in training by his 82-year-old co-astronaut.

The richest man on Earth will lift off from Texas on the maiden crewed voyage of his Blue Origin space tourism company. Accompanyi­ng him will be his brother, Mark, along with Oliver Daemen, 18, a Dutch physics student, who will become the youngest person ever in space and octogenari­an Wally Funk, who will become the oldest. Sixty years ago, Funk was one of a group of 13 women who underwent the same rigorous NASA testing as America's original seven male astronauts in the Mercury program.

None of the women went into space, and all of the men did.

Bezos, sitting with Funk ahead of the launch, said: “(Sixty years ago) they tested her, all the same tests they gave to the men, she outperform­ed all the men. We've been training here with Wally and I can assure you she is still outperform­ing all the men. At 82 years old, she can outrun all of us.” He said Funk was a “whirlwind of energy, a role model for determinat­ion, resilience and positivity — she's amazing.”

As they surveyed their capsule, Funk jumped up and down and yelled: “I'm gonna be in that window.”

She said: “Some day, I thought it (going into space) would happen. I've waited a long time but we're going to do it now. I'm very excited.

“I want to do everything in that capsule that I can do.”

Bezos said he was “not nervous” and was satisfied with the New Shepard rocket which will blast him into space. He said: “We really believe this flight is safe. I had friends say to me, `How about the second flight or the third flight — why do you have to go on the first flight?' If the vehicle's not safe for me it's not safe for anyone.

“We have never raced, our mascot is the tortoise, we have taken this one step at a time. We're ready.”

The rocket will reach speeds of 2,200 mph and is fully autonomous. It cannot be piloted from on board.

Bezos will travel beyond the Karman line, the internatio­nally recognized boundary of space, 62 miles up.

When Sir Richard Branson flew on Virgin Galactic's rocket plane on July 11, he did not cross the Karman line. But he went above 50 miles, which the U.S. Federal Aviation Administra­tion regards as space and awards astronaut wings for reaching.

Marco Caceres, a space analyst at the Teal Group in Virginia, said the 11-minute automated Blue Origin trip would be “kind of like getting on a ride at an amusement park.”

He said: “You just trust that everything has been checked out, is in good working order, and you just sit back and enjoy the ride.”

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