The Oklahoman

OSU alum, astronaut returns home

Wally Funk lands at Stillwater for celebratio­n

- Corey Jones

STILLWATER — If Wally Funk can orchestrat­e her next move as well as she conducted the band assembled in her honor Monday, the famed “Mercury 13” member just might have a shot at finding a way aboard the Internatio­nal Space Station.

The aviation pioneer landed at Stillwater Regional Airport about three months after she returned from her first suborbital spaceflight alongside Jeff Bezos on his Blue Origin rocket.

Funk, who graduated from OSU in 1960 and became the oldest person to fly into space at age 82 (a record that soon could be broken by actor William Shatner), described her experience as fantastic and said her eyes are set on an even loftier goal.

“I want to get up to the Internatio­nal Space Station — ISS,” Funk said. “That’s what I’ve wanted to do all my life, is to go to ISS.”

Funk is one of 13 female pilots who comprised the Mercury 13, similarly named to the country’s first seven male astronauts — the Mercury 7 — selected by NASA for its space program infancy in the early 1960s. The women, who took as many of the astronaut tests completed by their male counterpar­ts as they were allowed, weren’t chosen by NASA for its program because of their gender.

Funk named Eileen Collins — the first woman to pilot the space shuttle and later command one of its missions — and acknowledg­ed other female astronauts who were able to reach space before she did.

She said NASA wouldn’t take her on because she lacked an engineerin­g degree among her many credential­s. Instead, Funk cheered on the women astronauts at launches from the sidelines.

“I’m telling all of you that want to make something of yourself — get that engineerin­g degree, and talk to youngsters that want to do things in space,” Funk said while standing on an orange carpet rolled out on the tarmac Monday afternoon before her Q&A that evening with Oklahoma State University’s president.

“I’ve done everything out there. I’m the tomboy; I didn’t do girl stuff. I wanted (to go to space), but I didn’t realize I should have had an engineerin­g degree.”

Funk is serving as an inspiratio­n to at least one young girl in Stillwater who showed up to see the aerospace icon return to her alma mater.

Lilly Cribbs, 10, held up a colorful sign that welcomed Funk. She was able to meet Funk and pose with her for pictures.

Funk drew her a heart and wrote “you” below it, signing it with her first name.

Afterward, Lilly said she planned to hang it in her room. She called the experience “awesome” and said she has always wanted to be an astronaut, scientist and engineer.

Lilly’s mother is Jennifer Cribbs, an associate professor of math education in OSU’s College of Education and Human Sciences.

Cribbs said she and her daughter of

“That’s what I’ve wanted to do all my life, is to go to ISS.”

Wally Funk OSU alum, astronaut

ten watch space programs on television. Cribbs recalled when an astronaut visited her third-grade class and inspired her.

“I’m super excited for (Lilly) because I see so much potential now for her to be able to get into these fields that weren’t always accessible for women,” Cribbs said. “To see these role models — to see women doing these things — I think is wonderful.”

Funk brought energy and excitement to spare when she stepped off the private jet that brought her to Stillwater.

She shouted surprise at the OSU cheerleade­rs and dance team members who greeted her, as well as pretended to conduct the band members.

In recounting her “fantastic” flight, she said she climbed up the ladder to the rocket when some expressed doubts that she could at her age.

“I said, ‘Are you kidding me? I’m only 45,’” she quipped.

Funk said she has taken off on many jets and done “a lot of space stuff,” but never had she gotten to shoot straight up off the ground.

In microgravi­ty, she said, weightless­ness allowed her to “do anything I wanted to do.” She marveled at the engineerin­g that went into the rocket.

“You all, I cannot believe that there was never a bump — even when the parachutes came out,” Funk said.

 ?? MIKE SIMONS/ TULSA WORLD ?? Wally Funk reacts to a reception after stepping off an airplane and making her way down the orange carpet at Stillwater Regional Airport on Monday.
MIKE SIMONS/ TULSA WORLD Wally Funk reacts to a reception after stepping off an airplane and making her way down the orange carpet at Stillwater Regional Airport on Monday.
 ?? MIKE SIMONS/ TULSA WORLD ?? Wally Funk arrives to an orange carpet welcome at Stillwater Regional Airport on Monday.
MIKE SIMONS/ TULSA WORLD Wally Funk arrives to an orange carpet welcome at Stillwater Regional Airport on Monday.

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