On July 11, Sirisha Bandla will become the fourth Indian to fly into space, and the third Indian woman to achieve the feat. Bandla is all set to join Virgin Galactic’s founder Richard Branson on a flight to space along with four other members in the company’s winged rocket ship from New Mexico.
While Rakesh Sharma is the first Indian ever to go into space, the India-born Bandla is preceded by Kalpana Chawla and Indian American astronaut Sunita Williams.
The 34-year-old, one of the two women in the crew of six, will be the backbone of the operation and will be appraising the human-tended research experience during the trip. She currently works on Government Affairs and Business Development for Virgin Galactic and its sister company, Virgin Orbit — supporting both LauncherOne and SpaceShipTwo programs.
“I am so incredibly honored 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.
Born in Guntur in Andhra Pradesh, and raised in Houston, Texas, Bandla belongs to a family of science graduates. The Week reports that Bandla’s maternal grandfather, Venkat Narsaiah, from Prakasam district, worked as a chemistry professor, while her paternal grandfather, Bandla Ragaiah who now resides in Guntur district, retired as a principal scientist from a government-run agriculture university. Her father Muralidhar Bandla is a scientist employed with the U.S. government. Her elder sister Pratyusha Bandla is a Biological science Technician in Maryland.
Ragaiah told The Week that ever since the news broke, he is “really tired with all the calls.” He said his granddaughter is “very focused and dedicated.” He said Bandla was “always fascinated by aircrafts and space” and was also interested in designing and researching aviation-related topics.
An aeronautical engineer, Bandla began her career at Virgin Galactic in 2015 as a government affairs manager and has subsequently progressed through the company’s ranks. She was also a part of the management team of the Washington operations for Virgin Orbit which recently launched a satellite in space using a 747 plane. Additionally, she assists with the coordination of the Matthew Isakowitz Fellowship Program, a mentorship program for students interested in a career in the commercial space technological industry. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in aeronautical/astronautical engineering from Purdue and holds a Masters of Business Administration from George Washington.
In an introduction video on the July 11 trip, Branson said was proud of the crew he has by his side as they fly to space. “This July our dream will become a reality and we are excited to share it with you all,” he said. “When we return from space, I will announce something very exciting to give more people the chance to become an astronaut. Because space belongs to us all. So watch this space.”
Earlier the company tweeted a photo of the crew. “Our first fully crewed rocket-powered test flight is planned to take place on July 11th with two pilots and four mission specialists including @RichardBranson onboard.”
The July 11 mission will be the 22 flight test for VSS Unity and Virgin Galactic’s fourth crewed spaceflight, the company said on July 2. The announcement from Virgin came just a few hours after Amazon founder Jeff Bezos announced that aviation pioneer Wally Funk will be joining him, his brother Mark and the yet-to-be-named winner of an online auction for blastoff July 20 aboard his company’s New Shepard spacecraft.
Many took to Twitter to congratulate Bandla. “Indian-origin women continue to break the proverbial glass ceiling and prove their mettle,” tweeted former Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister NN Chandrababu Naidu. “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.”
Replying to Naidu’s tweet, one user wrote: “Yes, sir. She is surely gonna make the land proud. More power to you Sirisha Bandla you will be an inspiration to many. Fly Colours.”
Telugu film producer Bandla Ganesh tweeted: “Sirisha Bandla daughter of Dr. Muralidhar Bandla and Anuradha Bandla is going into space on July 11th, 9 am. We are all proud of you, Sirisha! @SirishaBandla “Astronaut 004” Congratulations! We are all really proud of you!”
Christian Davenport, a space reporter at The Washington Post tweeted: “I know everyone is saying that Richard Branson just wants to beat Bezos to space. And that may be true. But I also think he really wants to fly with the incomparable @SirishaBandla. Congrats Sirisha!”
Bandla, in a subsequent tweet on July 2 said she was overwhelmed by messages of love. “I really didn’t need to tweet this since my friends flooded the feed yesterday with it. I was overwhelmed (in a good way) by messages of love, unrecognizable capital text, and positivity yesterday. Slowly working my way through them…One platform at a time.”