Indian-origin Sirisha Bandla is set to become the second Indian-born woman to fly into space after Kalpana Chawla. The Indian-American astronaut will be one of the six crew members aboard Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic flight ‘VSS Unity’, which is scheduled to blast off to space on July 11, 2021, from New Mexico. Bandla aptly summed up this mission as an “incredible opportunity to get people from different backgrounds, different geographies, and different communities into space”.
Bandla is a Purdue alumna whose dreams of journeying into space with Nasa were dashed because of poor eyesight. She started working for Virgin Galactic in January 2021, as the vice president of Government Affairs and Research Operations. Speaking on the mission, Bandla said that she is incredibly honored to be a part of the amazing crew of Unity 22 and to be a part of a company whose mission is to make space available to all. She will be astronaut number 4 on the crew.
Bandla was born in the Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh and moved to Houston with her family later. Her grandparents are extended family members who still reside in Guntur. “I’m very happy. From the beginning, she was very fascinated with the sky. Now she’s going to space with 5 other members. She is very brave and very strong in her decision,” her grandfather told news agency ANI.
Bandla credited her mother for teaching her perseverance. After the company announced the test flight on July 2, she 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,”
Former Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu tweeted saying, “Indian-origin women continue to break the proverbial glass ceiling and prove their mettle. On July 11, Sirisha Bandla with Telugu roots is set to fly to space aboard VSS Unity with Richard Branson and the team marking the dawn of the new space age, making all Indians proud.” the post read.
Branson’s Virgin Galactic Holding Inc will be sending the company’s passenger rocket plane, the VSS Unity, on its first fully crewed test flight to the edge of space on Sunday. If everything goes according to plan, the flight will last a total of 90 minutes and end where it began and end on a runway at Spaceport America near the town of Truth or Consequences. The launch will be live-streamed by Virgin Galactic.