The more than 400 members of the Robson Ranch Women’s Club took a trip into the wild blue yonder in June as Roanoke resident Mary Wallace (Wally) Funk entertained the group with her stories of being a Mercury 13 astronaut and a pioneer in aviation including serving as the first female air safety investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board.
Wally’s story is a great example of anything a man can do a woman can do better. She volunteered for the Women in Space Program in 1961 becoming a Mercury 13 astronaut and scoring higher than John Glenn did in the rigorous physical and mental testing to qualify to go into space. She survived 10 hours and 35 minutes in a sensory deprivation tank without hallucinating, a record. But our nation was just not quite ready for a female astronaut as yet, and that portion of the Mercury program was canceled.
Wally had always wanted to fly. A Taos, New Mexico native, her first “flight” was off her parents’ roof in a Superman costume. Lucky for Wally there was a haystack below. She made her first solo flight at age 16, and at 20 years old became a professional aviator. She is a graduate of Oklahoma State University.
Wally flew 80,000 miles all over the world as a U.S. government Goodwill Ambassador. She chalked up plenty of firsts. At Fort Sill, Oklahoma she became the first non-military flight instructor. She was the first woman to finish the Federal Aviation Authority’s General Aviation Operations Instructor Academy, and as mentioned the first female safety investigator for our nation’s national safety board.
Wally has recorded more than 18,600 flight hours and has taught more than 2,000 students to fly. She hopes one day to venture into space via the Virgin Galactic, Sir Richard Branson’s dream to provide suborbital spaceflights to space tourists. She learned how to fly a Black Hawk helicopter and she certainly has learned how to give a warm, entertaining luncheon speech. The entire Women’s Club sure hopes she gets her chance for zero gravity someday.
The Robson Ranch Women’s Club would like to thank all the artists, sponsors and attendees who made the recent Art, Wine and Cheese Charity event such a success. Mark your calendar for October 8, the Women’s Club’s annual Christmas Market here at Robson Ranch. Visit http://www.rrwomensclub.org for more information.