34-year-old Sirisha Bandla will be the second Indian-born woman to go to space after Kalpna Chawla. Born in the Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh, Bandla was raised in Houston, United States and finished her MBA from George Washington University in America. On July 11, she is going to space on a mission VSS Unity by Virgin Galactic, a spaceflight company in the United States.
In an old interview Bandla gave in September 2020, she raised concerns over the low representation of women and non-white people in the commercial spaceflight industry.
“Women and people of colour you don’t often see…I don’t often see students that look like myself in this industry just yet,” said Bandla. She also stressed the need for young students to join the space industry.
She was speaking about the Matthew Isakowitz Fellowship, a program that helps college students enter the commercial spaceflight industry. Bandla is one of the coordinators of the fellowship that is set up in memory of aerospace engineer Matthew Isakowitz. Isakowitz had helped Bandla in understanding space policy, at a crucial time in her career when she joined the Commercial Spaceflight Federation in Washington.
Bandla expressed hope that the college students become aware of the commercial spaceflight industry through the fellowship, “I am hoping that by giving some experience whether you stay in the commercial space industry or go on to another industry you are able to communicate some of the lessons that you’ve learned and share your network.”
She said that underrepresented early joiners of the industry like her can lead the way and reduce the barriers for interested students.
Bandla is the vice president of Government Affairs at Virgin Galactic where she engages with the policymakers in government to help her company and the commercial space industry grow. On July 2, Virgin Galactic announced its Unity 22 mission, the 22nd flight test for the company’s VSS Unity spacecraft. The mission will take a six-member crew to space, two of which will be pilots. Other than Bandla, the astronauts on the mission include the company’s founder Richard Branson, who will test the spaceflight for its private astronaut experience.