History In Making: Sirisha Bandla to become 4th Indian-Origin to fly beyond Earth
Sirisha Bandla, the 34-year-old aeronautical engineer, is all geared up to fulfil her dream and become the fourth Indian-origin to head to space when she flies as part of Virgin Galactic’s first fully crewed flight test on Sunday, that is, July 11. She will become the second Indian-born woman after Kalpana Chawla to fly into outer space. She will be part of the six space travellers who will join the journey, including Sir Richard Branson, the company’s billionaire founder, and five others on board Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Unity to blast off to the edge of space from New Mexico.
Born in Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh, Sirisha Bandla grew up in Houston, Texas, near NASA’s Johnson Space Center, and always wanted to become an astronaut. She studied aeronautical engineering at Purdue University and also holds a Master of Business Administration degree from Georgetown University.
But poor eyesight meant she could not meet the requirements to become a pilot or an astronaut, derailing her high-school plan to go the Air Force-to-NASA route, she said in the statement.
She started working at Virgin Galactic in 2015 and became the Vice President of Government Affairs and Research Operations at the company in January 2021. She has also worked as an aerospace engineer in Texas, after which she had a job in space policy at the Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF).
“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,” she tweeted.
Bandla will be astronaut no 004 and her flight role will be Researcher Experience, according to her profile on Virgin Galactic. A Purdue University alumna, Bandla 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.
“I’ve had fond memories of my time at Purdue,” the Indian-American astronaut said in 2021, “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.”
Back home in India, Bandla’s grandfather shared the overwhelming happiness to see her granddaughter go into space. “I am overwhelmed with joy and happiness that my second granddaughter is going to space. She has been very brave right from the beginning and is a very strong decision-maker. She completed her schooling in the US. She has always had a fascination for the sky,” Dr Ragaiah, Bandla’s paternal grandfather, told news agency ANI.
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.