Pioneering female aviator Wally Funk is 'America's new sweetheart'

Wally Funk reacts after receiving her astronaut's wings from Blue Origin's Jeff Ashby, a former space shuttle commander at a post-launch press conference after she flew with three crewmates on Blue Origin's inaugural flight to the edge of space, in the nearby town of Van Horn, Texas, U.S., July 20, 2021. REUTERS/Joe Skipper

(Reuters) - Wally Funk became the oldest person to reach space on Tuesday - some 60 years after first undergoing astronaut training.

Funk was one of the so-called Mercury 13 group of women here who trained to become NASA astronauts in the 1960s but was passed over because of her gender.

On Tuesday, at the age of 82, she was one of Jeff Bezos' three co-passengers aboard his company Blue Origin's New Shepard launch vehicle to take a historic suborbital flight here.

“I’ve been waiting a long time,” Funk said afterward. “I want to go again - fast.”

Her flight has earned Funk a new generation of admirers on social media, and beyond.

“Wally Funk is now on my list of people that I would most like to meet in the country. She is America’s new sweetheart,” White House spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters.

Writing by Rosalba O’Brien; Editing by Sandra Maler