Third woman of Indian descent to fly into space will be a mission specialist on Virgin Galactic’s ‘Unity 22’ flight.
Indian American Sirisha Bandla is all set to fly off into space on July 11 as a mission specialist on Virgin Galactic’s next test flight of its SpaceShipTwo Unity with Company’s founder, Sir Richard Branson.
The “Unity 22” mission, the twenty-second flight test for VSS Unity, will be the first to carry a full crew of two pilots and four mission specialists in the cabin, according to a company announcement.
While boss Branson will be testing the private astronaut experience, Bandla, Vice President of Government Affairs and Research Operations at Virgin Galactic, will be evaluating the human-tended research experience.
Andhra, India born Bandla will be using an experiment from the University of Florida that requires several handheld fixation tubes that will be activated at various points in the flight profile
“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,” she tweeted.
Bandla will be the third Indian American woman to fly into space after Karnal, India, born Kalpana Chawla and Sunita Williams.
Read: Indian American astronaut Raja Chari to lead mission to Space Station (December 15, 2020)
Building on the success of the Company’s most recent spaceflight in May, Unity 22 will focus on cabin and customer experience objectives, including:
– Evaluating the commercial customer cabin with a full crew, including the cabin environment, seat comfort, the weightless experience, and the views of Earth that the spaceship delivers — all to ensure every moment of the astronaut’s journey maximizes the wonder and awe created by space travel
– Demonstrating the conditions for conducting human-tended research experiments
– Confirming the training program at Spaceport America supports the spaceflight experience
For the first time, Virgin Galactic will share a global livestream of the spaceflight. The livestream will be available to watch on Virgin Galactic.com and will be simulcast on the Virgin Galactic Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook channels. It is expected to begin at 7:00 am MDT / 9:00 am EDT on the day of the flight.
Branson said: “I truly believe that space belongs to all of us. After more than 16 years of research, engineering, and testing, Virgin Galactic stands at the vanguard of a new commercial space industry, which is set to open space to humankind and change the world for good.”
“It’s one thing to have a dream of making space more accessible to all; it’s another for an incredible team to collectively turn that dream into reality,” he said.
“As part of a remarkable crew of mission specialists, I’m hono”red to help validate the journey our future astronauts will undertake and ensure we deliver the unique customer experience people expect from Virgin.”
Previously, Bandla served as the Associate Director for the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, an industry association of commercial spaceflight companies.
At CSF, Bandla works on various policies with the aim to promote the commercial space industry and make commercial spaceflight a reality. Before CSF, she worked as an aerospace engineer designing components for advanced aircraft at L-3 Communications in Greenville, Texas.
She has a Bachelors of Science degree in aeronautical/astronautical engineering from Purdue and holds a Masters of Business Administration from George Washington University.
Bandla currently serves on the Board of Directors for the American Astronautical Society, Future Space Leaders Foundation, and is a member of the Young Professional Advisory Council at Purdue University. Bandla also helps to coordinate the Matthew Isakowitz Fellowship Program.
Meanwhile, Bandla’s grandparents back in Andhra Pradesh are flooded with phone calls and messages showering their blessings and wishing her the best, according to the Indian Express.
Bandla Ragaiah, her paternal grandfather based in Guntur, says it was at the age of four years that Sirisha, who was always curious about flying and had her eyes set on the skies, took to her first adventure.
“At the age of four, she travelled alone to the US where her parents and older sister lived,” the 83-year-old who worked as a principal scientist and professor at state-run Acharya NG Ranga Agriculture University told Indianexpress.com over the phone.
“Though the person who accompanied her was known to us, he was a stranger to her. She was not scared to fly alone. She was excited,” he said.
Ragaiah is happy and proud that his granddaughter is set to achieve her dreams. He recalls her as a child who was decisive in her thoughts and determined to achieve them.
“We don’t know how she got interested in aircraft, stars and skies. It has been in her since childhood. Whatever she has achieved today is on her own accord and her parents gave her full freedom to pursue her dream. She has proved her excellence and rose to the occasion,”
Ragaiah was quoted as saying.
Her maternal grandfather, Venkat Narasiah, who retired as a Chemistry professor and lives at Tenali in Prakasam district of Andhra Pradesh, echoed similar views.
He recalled that Bandla used to visit NASA during the family’s stay in Houston. “She was so interested in flying an aircraft that even after she could not make it to NASA due to a condition in her eyesight, she pursued higher education in the same field. For those like her, she has done videos on YouTube — ‘lessons from Bandla Sirisha’ on how to get into the Space industry,” Narasiah told Indianexpress.com.
Both her grandparents agree that Sirisha was a fearless and active child. “When I used to come home late at night, I used to discourage her from stepping out. But she would always tell me not to worry and that she could take care of herself,” said Ragaiah.
“Even during a power cut when other children of her age would be scared of the pitch darkness around, she was not one of them,” Narsiah added.