Amazon and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos has chosen an early female aerospace pioneer to rocket into space with him later this month.
Wally Funk, denied astronaut wings decades ago because of her gender, will join Mr Bezos in Blue Origin’s New Shephard rocket.
The company announced on Thursday that the 82-year-old pilot will be aboard the July 20 launch from West Texas, flying in the capsule for the 10-minute hop as an "honoured guest".
She will join Mr Bezos, his brother and the winner of a charity auction, as the first people to fly a New Shepard rocket.
Ms Funk is among the so-called Mercury 13 women who went through astronaut training in the 1960s, but never made it to space, or even NASA’s astronaut corps, because they were female.
At that time, all of the NASA astronauts were military test pilots and male.
Mr Bezos in Blue Origin's New Shephard rocket booster and Crew Capsule mockup at the 33rd Space Symposium in Colorado Springs
Credit: Isaiah Downing/REUTERS
At age 82, Ms Funk will become the oldest person to launch into space. She will beat the late John Glenn, who set a record at age 77 when flying aboard space shuttle Discovery in 1998.
"No one has waited longer," Jeff Bezos said via his Instagram. "It’s time. Welcome to the crew, Wally. We’re excited to have you fly with us on July 20th as our honoured guest."
Ms Funk, a pilot and former flight instructor, was the first female inspector for the Federal Aviation Administration and the first female air safety investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board.
In the posted video, Ms Funk said she has 19,600 flying hours and has taught more than 3,000 people to fly.
Following the Mercury 13 training, she said, "They told me that I had done better and completed the work faster than any of the guys. So I got hold of NASA four times. 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."
Sally Ride was the first American woman to get to space in 1983, but it wasn’t until 1995 that an American woman was able to pilot a spaceship – when Eileen Collins piloted the shuttle Discovery. Many of the Mercury 13 women gathered at Cape Canaveral for the Discovery’s launch.
In his Instagram video, Jeff Bezos describes to Ms Funk how the four passengers will experience zero gravity for a few minutes, then land gently on the desert surface and open the hatch.
"You step outside. What’s the first thing you say?" he asked her.
"I will say, ‘Honey, that was the best thing that ever happened to me!" she replied, embracing Mr Bezos in a hug.