MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A childhood dream was fulfilled on Tuesday as 82-year-old astronaut Wally Funk blasted off with Amazon and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos.
Riding his own rocket, Bezos launched into space on a thrilling 10-minute up-and-down flight. And Funk, who made history with him, has a family connection back on Earth, in Memphis.
Memphis etiquette and protocol expert Sally Shy personally knows Wally Funk. The aviation trailblazer who just happens to be Shy’s first cousin by marriage.
“From the moment I met Wally 50 years ago, she has told me she always wanted to go,” said Shy. “She’s fabulous. I’m so proud to be able to say even though she’s not a blood cousin, she’s my late husband’s first cousin.”
Shy showed WREG photos of Funk with her family throughout the years. She said they just talked on the phone Thursday about space, and things more down to earth.
“We talked for about a half an hour laughing, giggling, and saying how fabulous it was that she was going to do this, and then she said, ‘Do you still have that album of mother’s 90th birthday and could you send it to me?’ I said I’ll do that very thing,” said Shy.
Days later, the next thing Funk did was travel to space.
“I sat there with tears all morning just watching her. I cried when she went up. I cried when the capsule separated, and I cried when she came down,” said Shy.
They were tears of joy because she knew her cousin had trained to become an astronaut, but her dreams were dashed because of gender and age.
“When the gender was allowed to go up into space, she was too old. So, she missed it for being a female and missed it for being too old until along came Jeff Bezos, our hero,” said Shy.
Bezos wanted Funk to be on board this flight becoming the oldest person to ever fly to space. Sally Shy says her cousin is showing the world you’re never too old to aim for the stars.
“I am so proud of her. That shows what patience and determination can do,” said Shy.
Shy says Bezos and others probably had a hard time trying to keep up with her cousin, because at 82, she has more energy than most people.