On Sunday, Andhra-born Sirisha Bandla will be scripting history by becoming the second India-born woman to fly to space. Bandla will be one of the six space travellers aboard ‘VSS Unity’ of Virgin Galactic, scheduled to blast off to space on July 11 from New Mexico. As part of the six-member crew alongside the founder of Virgin Galactic Richard Branson, Bandla’s role will be that of a researcher experience. The spaceflight will make the 34-year-old aeronautical engineer, who graduated from Purdue University, the second Indian-born woman to go into space after Kalpana Chawla and the fourth Indian to fly into space.
Bandla was born in Guntur, Andhra Pradesh and grew up in Houston, Texas. Bandla started working at Virgin Galactic in 2015 and is currently vice president of government affairs at the company. She is a graduate in aeronautical engineering from Purdue University and also holds a Master of Business Administration degree from Georgetown University. Prior to working at Virgin Galactic, she worked as an aerospace engineer in Texas, following which she had a job in space policy at the Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF).
Back home in India, her grandfather shares his excitement: “I’m very happy. From the beginning, she was very fascinated with the sky. Now she’s going to space with five other members. She is brave and strong in decision-making,” Dr Ragaiah told ANI. “I, along with my friends and relatives, wish her a successful and happy return to the land after completion of her journey,” he added.
Speaking to Times of India, she recently shared that she felt like “I am taking a bit of India up there with me.” In the interview Bandla also shared she knew she was going to space eventually — “I decided I was going to space no matter what. I didn’t know when it was going to happen, but I was pretty sure I would make it there someday.”
“I hope I go to space many times and many others go there too,” Bandla further added.
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.