Who Is Sirisha Bandla, Guntur Girl On Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic Spaceflight Unity22?

12 Jul, 2021 12:10 IST|Sakshi Post

Sirisha Bandla is a woman who is pushing the frontiers of what is possible on this planet.

Sirisha, her employer, Richard Branson, and four others were scheduled to go to space on Virgin Galactic's mission Unity22 on Sunday, July 11.

In India, the Twitterati already raised a glass to "Mana-ammayi-Modati Telugu ammayi" (Our Girl-First Telugu girl) travelling into space.

The journey of Sirisha Bandla, 34, from the rice fields of Guntur, Andhra Pradesh, to the edge of space on Sunday, not only fulfilled her childhood ambition but also made history by opening up a whole new universe for commercial space travel.

Sirisha Bandla was born in Guntur, India, to Muralidhar and Anuradha Bandla. She spent her early years in the region noted for its braided stream channels produced by the Krishna and other minor rivers before moving to Houston, Texas, with her parents, the centre of American space activities.

"I was always one of those kids that wanted to be an astronaut and go into space, and that’s something that I never grew out of," Sirisha stated in an interview with the American Astronautical Society's journal Space Times last year.

Her ambition to be an astronaut or a pilot, however, was crushed due to poor vision. However, Sirisha was able to follow her dream thanks to the first crewed private spacecraft, SpaceShipOne, which was sponsored by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen in 2004.

"From there on, I decided to become an aerospace engineer, so I could hopefully align myself with the growing commercial space sector," she said. 

Sirisha, her employer, Richard Branson, and four others took off to space on Virgin Galactic's mission Unity22 on Sunday, July 11.

"When I first heard I was getting this opportunity, I was speechless," Virgin Galactic published a video on July 5 in which she claimed as much.

The ‘Unity 22' mission, according to Virgin Galactic, will be the company's twenty-second flight test and the first to carry a complete crew of two pilots and four mission specialists in the cabin, including the company's founder, Richard Branson, who will be testing the private astronaut experience.

In India, the Twitterati have already raised their glasses in a toast to "Mana-ammayi-Modati Telugu ammayi" (Our Girl-First Telugu girl) travelling into space. 

"She is my granddaughter! Sirisha was fearless since childhood and had a keen interest in space. I wish her all the best. She grew up with us in Tenali till she was five," Sirisha's overjoyed paternal grandfather, Dr Bandla Ragaiah stated.

Sirisha graduated from Purdue University with a Bachelor of Science in Aerospace, Aeronautical, and Astronautical Engineering in 2011 and moved on to George Washington University for her MBA in 2015.

After finishing her studies, she joined Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic and is now the Vice President of Government Affairs at the British-American spaceflight firm.

In less than a decade, she has progressed from an intern designing sophisticated aircraft components at L-3 Communications in Texas to Associate Director of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, an industry group, to her present position at Virgin Galactic.

"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," Sirisha made the statement on July 2, a day after it was made public. Sirisha's call for all people to be able to fly to space draws attention to the lack of female astronauts.

Despite Valentina Tereshkova becoming the first woman to fly to space in 1963, almost 600 people have completed space missions in the last 50 years, with just 65 of them being women. Beth Moses, the first female commercial astronaut on Virgin Galactic's flight test in February 2019, would be one of Sirisha's companions.

"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," She mentioned this in an interview with the Matthew Isakowitz Fellowship, a programme that assists college students in pursuing careers in commercial spaceflight.

Sirisha is one of the organisers of a scholarship named after aerospace engineer Isakowitz, who assisted her in understanding space policy.

On Sunday, Indians all across the world watched and hailed Sirisha's journey to the edge of space. When the mothership releases Unity, whose rockets will carry it to a height of roughly 3,00,000 feet above the earth, the two spacecraft was to ascend together to an altitude slightly below 50,000 feet. Inside the cabin, sixteen HD cameras recorded every second of the event. After Kalpana Chawla, Sirisha will be the second Indian-born woman to travel to space.

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