Saqi Books imprint The Westbourne Press is to publish the story of Wally Funk, who was part of the first group of American pilots to pass the Women in Space programme.
The publisher acquired world rights to Wally Funk’s Race for Space: On the Road with a Forgotten Pioneer of Aviation by British journalist Sue Nelson from Peter Tallack at the Science Factory.
In 1961, Funk was among the Mercury 13, the first group of American pilots to pass the Women in Space programme. Like the other participants, she was put through rigorous physical and mental testing (from having ice cold water poured into her ears to floating in an isolation tank in complete darkness for over ten hours) by the same doctor who developed tests for the first male NASA astronauts. Funk did well, beating many of the male candidates. But one week before she was due to enter the final phase of training, the programme was abruptly cancelled. A combination of politics and prejudice meant that none of the women ever flew into space.
Since then, Funk has travelled the world and become one of America’s first female aviation inspectors, air-safety investigators and civilian flight instructors. Still regularly taking to the skies as a pilot, she has clocked up 19,000 flight hours and taught over 3,000 students. Throughout this journey, her dream of being an astronaut has never dimmed.
Like Margot Lee Shetterly’s Hidden Figures (William Collins), Wally Funk’s Race for Space aims to "set the record straight", telling the "incredible story" of one of history’s forgotten pioneers set against the backdrop of space exploration – past, present and future. It is the first book to focus solely on Funk, the youngest and one of the few surviving Mercury 13 members and the only woman to make firsts in aviation history – as well as being the only one of the Mercury 13 to take cosmonaut training and pursue her dream of becoming an astronaut into old age.
In Wally Funk’s Race for Space, journalist and broadcaster Sue Nelson follows Funk as she prepares to make her giant leap into space. A former BBC science correspondent, Nelson also studied space science at the University of Michigan on a prestigious Knight-Wallace Fellowship.
Lynn Gaspard, m.d. at Saqi Books, said the book will "restore Wally to her rightful place in history".
"Sue Nelson’s entertaining, inspirational and unconventional biography of Wally Funk, who could have been the first woman in space, restores Wally to her rightful place in history", said Gaspard. "Wally is a remarkable woman, a pioneer who was ahead of her time. I’m very proud to be publishing the story of what she and other women in space have had to overcome to be where we are today."
Nelson said: "Wally has spent a lifetime trying to get into space. This joyously exuberant and eccentric woman has trained alongside real astronauts, experienced weightlessness, and is a tremendous pilot. Wally has shown a generation of women that we can do space travel too. Whether behind the scenes as in Hidden Figures or in the pilot’s seat, the history of space travel consisted of a number of brave extraordinary women who were ready to sit on top of a rocket and explore the unknown. Wally is one of them and her unique story deserves to reach as wide an audience as possible."
Wally Funk’s Race for Space by Nelson will be published in hardback in October 2018, just before Funk’s 80th birthday in 2019, which also happens to be the 50th anniversary of the Moon Landings. Netflix will be releasing "The Mercury 13", a documentary film featuring Funk in the next six months, and Oscar-winning actress Jessica Chastain is also developing a TV series based on the Mercury 13, slated for broadcast in 2018.
An "extensive" publicity campaign is planned for publication, when Funk will visit the UK for events and interviews.