Sirisha Bandla to be the third Indian-origin woman to go to space

She will be the fourth person of Indian origin to achieve the feat after Rakesh Sharma, Kalpana Chawla and Indian-American Sunita Williams

She will accompany billionaire Richard Branson on Virgin Galactic's flight on July 11. Photo: Virgin Galactic

Sirisha Bandla is set to follow the footsteps of Kalpana Chawla and Sunita Williams, all the way up to space! The 34-year-old aeronautical engineer will become the third woman of Indian origin to reach outer space when she flies with Virgin Galactic’s first fully crewed flight test on July 11.

Bandla was born in Guntur district in Andhra Pradesh and grew up in Houston, Texas. She will join Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic, and five others on the company’s SpaceShip Two Unity to make an interstellar journey from New Mexico.

“I am so incredibly honoured to be a part of the amazing crew of #Unity22, and to be a part of a company whose mission is to make space available to all,” Bandla tweeted.

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She will be astronaut no. 004 and will resume her role as the Researcher Experience, according to her profile on Virgin Galactic.

In a video on Virgin Galactic’s Twitter account on July 6, Bandla said, “When I first heard that I was getting this opportunity, it was just. I think that that probably captured it very well, I was speechless. This is an incredible opportunity to get people from different backgrounds, different geographies and different communities into space.”

The space company, in a statement on their website, said, “Bandla, a Purdue University alumna, will be evaluating the human-tended research experience, using an experiment from the University of Florida that requires several handheld fixation tubes that will be activated at various points in the flight profile.”

Purdue University said that Bandla started working as the Vice President of Government Affairs and Research Operations at Virgin Galactic in January 2021.

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In a statement, Bandla mentioned that she grew up near NASA’s Johnson Space Center and always aspired to be an astronaut. She had poor eyesight, which meant she failed to meet the requirements of being a pilot or an astronaut. This derailed her high-school plan to go the Air Force-to-NASA route.

In 2021, she talked about her memories at Purdue University saying, “I’ve had fond memories of my time at Purdue. Being part of a group of passionate individuals… Purdue built a strong foundation of technical and programmatic principles we all carried into our successful careers.”

Also read: What drives China to build its own space station

Bandla’s grandfather, Dr. Ragaiah, is a retired scientist. He told Reuters, “From the beginning, she was very much fascinated towards the sky, looking at the sky, space, how to enter space and what is there.”

He further mentioned, “I am very happy and overwhelmed with joy. My second granddaughter, she is going to space.”

Galactic announced in a statement that the flight window for the upcoming rocket-powered test flight of its SpaceShip Two Unity commences on July 11, pending weather and technical checks.

Also read: Why India must keep chasing its space dream

“The ‘Unity 22’ mission will be the twenty-second flight test for VSS Unity and the company’s fourth crewed spaceflight. It will also be the first to carry a full crew of two pilots and four mission specialists in the cabin, including the company’s founder, Sir Branson, who will be testing the private astronaut experience,” it said.

After the announcement on July 2, Branson tweeted, “I’ve always been a dreamer. My mum taught me to never give up and to reach for the stars. On July 11, it’s time to turn that dream into a reality aboard the next Virgin Galatic spaceflight.”

Unity 22 will emphasize cabin and customer experience objectives as they build on the success of the company’s recent spaceflight in May.

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