Wheathampstead author pens book on 79-year-old’s desire to reach the final frontier

PUBLISHED: 12:00 14 October 2018 | UPDATED: 12:33 14 October 2018

Wally Funk, aged 21 in 1960, stood next to a T-33 trainer jet while working as a flight instructor at Fort Sill military base in Oklahoma.

Wally Funk, aged 21 in 1960, stood next to a T-33 trainer jet while working as a flight instructor at Fort Sill military base in Oklahoma.


A Wheathampstead author’s book on a 79-year-old woman’s attempts to make it into space has won the Daily Mail’s Book of the Week award.

Wally Funk and Sue Nelson in Paris. Picture: Sue Nelson.Wally Funk and Sue Nelson in Paris. Picture: Sue Nelson.

Sue Nelson, of Tudor Road, wrote Wally Funk’s Race For Space about the titular American’s efforts to travel outside Earth’s atmosphere, first as part of a group of women NASA refused to allow to join the astronaut ranks - known as the Mercury 13 - and now as a passenger on Virgin Atlantic.

Sue said: “Wally’s story will inspire any woman who was ever told you can’t do something. She followed her dreams and has been a huge inspiration to other women - becoming the first female Federal Aviation Administration inspector in the US and the National Transportation Safety Board’s first female air crash investigator.”

Mercury 13 was a group of female pilots who passed the tests to become astronauts in 1960-61, but NASA refused to allow them to progress. The video streaming service Netflix released a documentary about the Mercury 13 women in April this year.

Sue first met Wally in 1997 and they have spent the last two years making radio programmes and trips to Cape Canaveral, Paris and Wheathampstead - the last of which features in the book.

The cover and back of Wally Funk's Race to Space.The cover and back of Wally Funk's Race to Space.

Sue said: “She loved staying with us in Wheathampstead last year and came along to my Rock Choir social at Welwyn Garden City too - she made a big impression as Wally is a larger-than-life-character. Once met, you’ll never forget her. This book is a tribute to her and all women who have aimed high.”

Their most recent trip was to Spaceport America in New Mexico, where Wally hopes to finally fly to space next year - the 50th anniversary of the year humanity landed on the Moon.

In 2010, she bought a ticket for the Virgin Galactic spacecraft SpaceShipTwo for $200k.

Sue said: “As part of the Mercury 13, she made space history. Those women passed the same tests as the Mercury 7 astronauts, but never got the chance to go into space. Fingers crossed, Wally will make it before it’s too late.”

Wally told Sue in an interview: “I’m going to be sat on the right-hand side, right behind the first officer in SpaceShipTwo.”

Wally, who each weekend flies in a Cessna light aircraft, added: “I will fly until I’m ninety-one.”

Wally Funk’s Race for Space is published by The Westborne Press for £14.99.

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