Written by Jessica Starkey
In honor of International women’s Day, the Frontiers of Flight Museum Women’s Network hosted Lt. Col. Kelly Latimer United States Air Force, Ret. as their featured spring speaker on Friday, March 8.
A graduate of the United States Air Force Academy, Latimer, flew combat missions during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraq Freedom. She also flew several missions as a test pilot. Latimer now flies for Virgin Galactic and is looking forward to her first mission as an astronaut.
As a young child, Latimer envisioned herself among the stars.
“I remember watching ‘Romper Room’ in preschool, and they had a Halloween day. There were these kids dressed in costumes, and this little boy was dressed like an astronaut. I remember I thought, ‘He can’t wear that. That’s what I’m going to do.’”
Latimer went through the NASA astronaut selection process twice. The first time she qualified, but was not selected. The second time, she was disqualified because a medical test indicated she had the possibility of developing a thyroid complication in the future.
Believing her dream of becoming an astronaut finished, she concentrated on her test pilot career. She was working for Boeing when Virgin Galactic approached her for an opening as a commercial space pilot. She should fly in space for the first time later this year or early next year.
An attendee of the event, Wally Funk, bought a ticket to travel to space 18 years ago. Within the next year, Wally hopes to be flying with Virgin Galactic on a trip of a lifetime.
Project Mercury put an American man into orbit for the first time. For a short while in 1960-61, testing was done to determine how women would fair in space. When Wally Funk was 21 years-old, she was the youngest of NASA’s potential female astronaut candidates. She beat all the other women in the tests (and the men as well). President Eisenhower, however, decided NASA did not need female astronauts.
“I went on to Oklahoma City, and I took more tests. I took more in California. I took more anywhere I could get into a university or a program or a hospital that would take me. I had more test than the men on the Mercury 7,” Funk said. “I beat all the Mercury 7 [crew] on all the tests.
“I could do anything they would let me do. I’ve been to Russia three times with the cosmonauts. I did everything better than the guys could do.”
Funk worked as a National Transportation Safety Board crash investigator and continues to work as a flight instructor.
“I have flown every airplane there is, jets down, airline down,” Funk said. “I’ve done a lot of gliding. I’ve done acrobatics.”
In addition to the business women who attended the event, sponsorships allowed several young ladies attending local high schools to be a part of the festivities as well.
“[The event] was meant for women who are interested in aviation,” Dan Steelman, vice president of collection and exhibits at the Frontiers of Flight Museum, said. “We bring out mentors who tell them ‘I was involved with this. I did this, and you can do it as well.’ It is a means of encouraging women to follow their dreams.”