Written by Sakshi Agarwal (Weloquent)
In a feat that can only be described as spectacular, Indian-born Sirisha Bandla, became one of the pioneers in Virgin Galactic’s bid to make private space travel a reality. On July 11, 2021, Bandla along with billionaire and founder of Virgin Galactic, and five other crew members, flew to space on the Virgin SpaceShip Unity (VSS Unity) over the New Mexico Desert. Bandla’s is a tale of courage and inspiration that motivates us to never stop believing.
Born in Guntur District of Andhra Pradesh, she was raised in Huston, Texas, from the age of 4, where she later graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree from the School of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Purdue University in 2011. She then went on to finish her Master of Business Administration degree in 2015, from George Washington University.
A dreamer of space travel since a child, she grew up asking piercing questions about aeroplanes, space, and travel. Sirisha approached the National Aeronautics Space Administration (NASA) for a role that would give her wings to achieve her dreams. However, she was turned down because of poor eyesight. It was one of her professors at Purdue who recommended her to pursue an opportunity for commercial space flying as an alternative. And so, she served as the Vice President of Government Affairs and Research Operations before being given the opportunity to get on board the Virgin SpaceShip Unity.
Assigned as No 004, Bandla was one of the four specialists on board, with the in-flight role of Research Experience assigned to her which entailed monitoring and evaluating the conditions and experiences for future travelers to space. The other crew mates included two pilots, two crewmates, and the British Billionaire, Richard Branson. According to Bandla, “Seeing the view of the Earth is so life changing, but also the boost of the rocket motor kicking in. The whole trip to space and back was amazing.”
The 90-minute test flight was designed to carry a maximum of 8 people and the flight path was broken up into 4 distinct phases: the ascent up to the launch, the release, the flight into space – wherein passengers are able to experience weightlessness and a view of the curvature and magnificence of the Earth – and the glide back to Earth that returns the craft to the same runway from where it took flight.
Reiterating the aim of the mission, Bandla took to twitter to post a video where she opened-up about this experience saying that it was an incredibly honoring experience that left her speechless. She expressed her belief that this new venture into space travel would provide an opportunity “to get people from different backgrounds, geographies, and communities, into space.” She joins Kalpana Chawla and Sunita Williams in becoming the third Indian-origin woman to fly to outer space, and the second Indian-born woman to do so.
Sirisha Bandla’s journey is inspiring and a beautiful blend of ambition, unconventionality, and the hope of achieving and manifesting our goals through hardwork, patience, and merit.