Sirisha Bandla: Astronaut Hoping to Make Space Accessible for All

Sirisha Bandla, Vice President of Government Affairs and Research operations at Virgin Galactic, was the second Indian-born woman to go to space after Kalpana Chawla. She took off from New Mexico on a Virgin Galactic winged rocket ship on July 11th with six people on board, including the billionaire entrepreneur and founder of Virgin Galactic, Richard Branson. 

Born in the Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh, Ms. 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 has an MBA degree from Georgetown University. This flight became the first step at the beginning of space tourism. Having an Indian-born woman take part in this project is a noteworthy achievement not only for her but for all of India. Bandla expressed her delight at the announcement on Twitter, saying she felt “very privileged” to be a part of the crew as astronaut 004.

“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 wrote on Twitter.

The Unity 22 flight that took off from the Spaceport facility in the Mojave desert propelled the crew along with Sirisha Bandla to about 90 kilometers above the surface of the Earth. The WhiteKnight aircraft, VMS Eve, carried a rocket-powered spaceship, VSS Unity which held the crew members. About 40 minutes after take-off, Unity dropped from the middle of the mothership and ignited its rocket engine moments later to send the crew to the edge of space, about 55 miles high, for a few minutes of weightlessness. Upon re-entry, the plane returned like a commercial airplane to a landing strip at Spaceport America.

“Glad to know that Sirisha Bandla became the second Indian-born woman to fly into space. Her achievement will motivate many more young girls in India & abroad to take up challenging careers. Heartiest congratulations to Sirisha Bandla, her parents, and mentors!” tweeted Vice President of India, Venkaiah Naidu.

The crew successfully landed back on Earth after a few minutes of flying in endless space. In an interview with The View, a few days after their journey, Sirisha Bandla and Richard Branson explained how “extraordinary” their flight was. They expressed the indescribable feeling of unbuckling and lifting due to the absence of gravity and the Earth in its “breathtaking” form. Along with the beauties and fun of space, Sirisha Bandla explained how she had a role as a mission specialist in the flight to conduct human tendon research. To do so, she carried Kennedy fixation tubes that supported a plant. She did this to see how they would react to the environment. She did this to help create plants that could better adapt to harsh environments on Earth in the future and plants that can travel with astronauts going to further destinations. 

“When I was younger I saw Richard announce that he was going to create Virgin Galactic to make space accessible to all and that’s when I said that I would be going up to space with Virgin Galactic, because I didn’t qualify due to my eyesight for NASA or other methods of going to space, so it’s just very meaningful to have gone to space and to have gone to space with Virgin Galactic” Sirisha explains in an interview.

Sirisha Bandla will indeed be an inspiration to many young people aspiring to venture out into space.