Wally Funk, 82, gives Jeff Bezos’ space adventure a not-so-stellar review

Wally Funk, 82, gives Jeff Bezos’ space adventure a not-so-stellar review

She has reached heights most people can only dream of, but Wally Funk wasn’t totally sold on her trip up to the stars.

The 82-year-old accompanied billionaire Jeff Bezos on Tuesday’s Blue Origin mission and, in so doing, officially became the oldest person to travel into space.

But whilst Funk, who first trained to be an astronaut some 60 years ago, has enthusiastically thanked the billionaire for inviting her on the historic flight, she has also offered a less-than-stellar assessment of the 11-minute voyage.

Speaking at a post-flight press conference, she implied that she and her three fellow crew mates didn’t quite travel high enough or spend long enough in zero gravity for her liking.

“We went right on up and I saw darkness. I thought I was going to see the world, but we weren’t quite high enough,” the one-time NASA hopeful reportedly admitted.

Named after America’s first astronaut, Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket reached heights of around 66 miles, trumping the altitude hit by rival Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic ride by 10 miles.

And although its four passengers – the Amazon founder, his brother Mark, Dutch 18-year-old  Oliver Daemen, and Funk – could see Earth from the windows of the capsule, the view couldn’t quite match that seen from the International Space Station, which is about four times higher than they went.

Footage shared from the mission shows the crew were treated to a look at the edge of the planet’s atmosphere, as well as the blackness of space, but no, they weren’t quite high enough to “see the world,” as she put it.

Funk (right) takes a look out the window at the pretty jaw-dropping viewAFP via Getty Images

Continuing her frank review of their journey, the 82-year-old added that she wished she could have spent longer in zero gravity to “do a lot more rolls and twists and so forth,” the New York Post reports.

“But there was not quite enough room for all four of us to do all those things,” she lamented.

Video taken inside the capsule during their several minutes of weightlessness showed the four floating, tossing Skittles sweets and throwing balls, accompanied by lots of cheering, whooping and exclamations of "wow!". The Bezos brothers also joined their palms to display a "HI MOM" greeting written on their hands.

But space did also look pretty tight in there so, as Funk pointed out, there wasn’t much room for somersaults.

The four-person crew still managed to play around despite the tight squeezeBlue Origin

The octogenarian’s final critique was that she would have liked a bit more time up there.

“I loved every minute of it,” she said. “I just wish it had been longer.”

Her appraisal of the trip stood in marked contrast to the hyperbolic gushings of Bezos himself.

Speaking after the capsule touched down in West Texas he hailed it as the “best day ever”, telling reporters: “My expectations were high and they were dramatically exceeded.”

Dutch teen Daemen, who nabbed a ticket after his father paid an undisclosed price in a charity auction said it was “amazing”, and that he hoped “many, many more people” would be able to enjoy the same mission themselves.

Blue Origin — founded by Bezos in 2000 in Kent, Washington, near Amazon’s Seattle headquarters — hasn’t revealed its price for a ride to space but has lined up spots for other auction bidders. Ticket sales, including the auction, are approaching $100 million, Bezos said. Two more flights are planned by year’s end.

Meanwhile, Virgin Galactic already has more than 600 reservations at $250,000 apiece.

Founded by Branson in 2004, the company has sent crew into space four times and plans two more test flights from New Mexico before launching customers next year.

Blue Origin’s approach was slower and more deliberate. After 15 successful unoccupied test flights to space since 2015, Bezos finally declared it was time to put people on board. The Federal Aviation Administration agreed last week, approving the commercial space licence.

Bezos claimed the first seat, the next went to his 50-year-old brother – an investor and volunteer firefighter – then Funk and Daemen. They spent two days together in training.

Fewer than 600 people have reached the edge of space or beyond. Until Tuesday, the youngest was 25-year-old Soviet cosmonaut Gherman Titov and the oldest at 77 was Mercury-turned-shuttle astronaut John Glenn.

Both Bezos and Branson want to drastically increase those overall numbers, as does SpaceX’s Elon Musk, who’s skipping brief space hops and sending his private clients straight to orbit for tens of millions apiece, with the first flight coming up in September.

"We’re going to build a road to space so our kids and their kids can build the future," Bezos said. "We need to do that to solve the problems here on Earth."

Despite appearances, Bezos and Branson insist they weren’t trying to outdo each other by strapping in themselves. Bezos noted this week that only one person can lay claim to being first in space: Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, who rocketed into orbit on April 12, 1961.

Branson even marked Tuesday’s excitement by sending a congratulatory tweet:

Blue Origin is working on a massive rocket, New Glenn, to put payloads and people into orbit from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The company also wants to put astronauts back on the moon with its proposed lunar lander Blue Moon – challenging NASA’s sole contract award to SpaceX.

Included in the many people that Bezos thanked Tuesday was "every Amazon employee and every Amazon customer. Because you guys paid for all this."

Bezos has said he finances the rocket company by selling $1 billion in Amazon stock each year.

This article was amended on July 28, 2021 to change a reference to Wally Funk being a “former NASA trainee” to being a “one-time NASA hopeful”. Funk did apply to be included on NASA missions but was not accepted.

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