Local author, NASA astronaut say Amazon founder’s space flight transcends limits for travel, women
The success of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ New Shepard rocket launch on Tuesday highlighted that some boundaries are meant to be broken. With 82-year-old astronaut Wally Funk on board, now the oldest person to travel into outer space, this message shone especially bright for some Franklin County residents.
Leverett resident Martha Ackmann, author of “The Mercury 13: The True Story of Thirteen Women and the Dream of Space Flight,” relished the 10-minute flight into space made by Funk, Bezos, his brother Mark Bezos and 18-year-old Oliver Daemen. Ackmann joined her friend Catherine “Cady” Coleman, a Shelburne Falls resident and former NASA astronaut who has logged 4,330 hours in space aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia and the International Space Station, to tune into the post-launch press conference. The two celebrated the mission’s success as a step toward what Ackmann hopes is a “more equitable world.”
“I never thought she would make it into space,” Ackmann said of Funk, who she’s known for 23 years. “One opportunity after another fizzled.”
Funk is one of two surviving members of the Mercury 13 group of female astronaut trainees who was ultimately not selected for space travel after passing NASA-standard training and testing in 1961. Her ascent 60 years later marked not only the fruition of a lifelong dream, but made Funk the oldest person to ever travel into outer space.
Coleman said many people lack the knowledge of history to know the extent of gender discrimination.
“Back then, people really wondered if women could do these things,” Coleman said. “The more we look back, the more we can forge ahead.”
“It is just an astonishing day,” Ackmann said. “I shed a tear or two. … I know what it means to the Mercury 13.”
Ackmann said that while Tuesday’s flight “feels like the dawn of a new age,” some of it feels like part of a story coming full circle. In 1999, Ackmann had been side-by-side with Funk to watch the launch of NASA’s STS-93 Columbia shuttle mission where Coleman joined Eileen Collins, the first female commander of a space mission. Ackmann recalls Funk being particularly touched by this milestone, speaking words of encouragement that could well have been spoken to Funk herself before the New Shepard launch.
“Wally said, ‘Go Eileen. Go for all of us.’”
Some disprove of the concept of billionaire businessmen getting involved in space travel. Coleman, however, believes Bezos’ motives behind his space company Blue Origin are more than merely financial. She said Bezos has gone the extra mile to innovate and involve deserving people in his missions.
“People want to tell the easy story,” Coleman said of those dismissive of Bezos’ care. “It’s not about going to space. It’s about having the vision and the resources to go to space and pave the way.”
Coleman and Ackmann each expressed the belief that “breaking open space flight” by making it more frequent and accessible would result in growing diversity as more get to board spacecrafts. Ackmann said Blue Origin’s focus on both diversifying space flight and commercial space travel brings attention to where it’s needed.
“I hope it prompts people to ask themselves who gets in, who gets left out, and the price we pay for discrimination,” Ackmann said.
Coleman said she hopes that broadened accessibility will allow more people to get a physical bird’s-eye view of the world, which can then help them form a figurative one.
“Getting up to space and seeing the view and getting that perspective is really important,” Coleman said. “They’re going to head up to space and look down and realize how much work we have to do on Earth.”
Source – GreenField Recorder