ROANOKE -- As a 5-year-old, Wally Funk decided to take to the skies.Unfortunately, she was equipped only with a Superman cape on her shoulders and a bale of hay below her as she jumped from her father's barn.That was the last time she let gravity hold her down.Since then, the Roanoke resident has been a pioneer for women in aviation, setting standards as a pilot, flying instructor and a hopeful astronaut-in-training.Now, though, the elusive goal she's sought since childhood is in sight. She plans to launch into space sometime next year.Funk was recently selected as a passenger on Sir Richard Branson's space capsule, SpaceShipTwo, which is straddled by the four engines of the WhiteKnightTwo craft. As the first private venture to go into space, the Virgin Galactic program is recruiting aspiring astronauts to be launched from Spaceport America in New Mexico.Not only do passengers each need to write a check for $200,000, but they must also pass physical and mental assessments similar to NASA's. Funk has passed them all, scoring better than the male counterparts on many of them.Those physical and psychological tests are nothing new to the woman who records show is 73 but says she's "mentally and physically 45."She had hoped to have gotten to space long before now.Funk and 12 other women were set to become the first women in space as far back as 1961.Known as the Mercury 13, a spinoff of the Mercury 7 astronaut program, the 13 women were involved in almost identical screening.Funk passed her tests with flying colors: the centrifuge test, the physical tests and even more extreme tests, such as having freezing water inserted in an ear to produce symptoms of vertigo. She set benchmarks for the longest a pilot had pedaled a high-tension bicycle while hooked to electrodes, and she even spent 101/2 hours in a sensory deprivation water tank."It's all mental," Funk said.But in 1963, Congress held hearings on whether to send women into space. It decided that astronaut candidates had to be test pilots and have engineering degrees, which at that time eliminated women.The program was suspended, and NASA didn't send a woman into space until 1983.A pilot's lifeAlthough she's never been into space, Funk has logged over 18,500 hours as a professional pilot, a career she started at age 20. She said she got her drive, passion and desire to fly from her mother."At the age of 16, my mother saw a barnstormer land and took a ride," Funk said. "Her father was a staunch banker and told her, 'You'll never fly because they wear britches.'"My parents were gracious enough to let me do that."Funk has been a pilot for several commercial airlines, chief pilot for five aviation schools and the first female investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board.She continues to work as a flight instructor in Dallas-Fort Worth, routinely speaks across the country and has appeared on a number of TV programs. But she's waiting for the call to begin preparations for her next adventure: space."I know exactly where I want to be, too," Funk said in reference to the six-passenger SpaceShipTwo. "I want to sit behind the first officer on the right side."The aircraft recently received federal approval for suborbital test flights. The company has said the first will be this year. Although no dates have been set for commercial spaceflights, more than 500 people have paid for the rides.Funk's payment was covered directly by royalties from movies and appearances, which she saved over the years."But it is certainly worth $200,000 to me," she said.Funk hasn't written a book about her life and career, but that may soon change."When I get into space, that's when the book will be written," she said. "And, I know when I do it once, I'm going to want to do it again. I'm going to need more money."