Indian-origin aeronautical engineer, Sirisha Bandla, 34, is set to head to space with the billionaire entrepreneur, Richard Branson in Virgin Galactic’s first fully crewed rocket powered test flight on July 11.
The crew consists of two pilots and four mission specialists, including Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic – a space travel company.
Bandla, who was born in Guntur district in Andhra Pradesh(India) and brought up in Houston, Texas, will take off in SpaceShipTwo Unity from New Mexico at 1am (July 12- NZST)- pending weather and technical checks.
“I am so incredibly honoured 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 tweeted.
“I’ve always been a dreamer. My mum taught me to never give up and to reach for the stars. On July 11, it’s time to turn that dream into a reality aboard the next @VirginGalatic spaceflight,” she said in her tweet.
‘Unity 22’ will focus on cabin and customer experience objectives, apart from several other evaluations.
“As part of a remarkable crew of mission specialists, I’m honoured to help validate the journey our future astronauts will undertake and ensure we deliver the unique customer experience people expect from Virgin,” says Richard Branson who will be testing the private astronaut experience.
Bandla will become the third Indian-origin – and the first Telugu-speaking woman, to fly into space after Kalpana Chawla and Sunita Williams. Kalpana Chawla who went into space in 1997, died in a space shuttle disaster in 2003 that killed seven-crew.
A Purdue University alumna, Bandla’s flight role will be evaluating the human-tended research experience using an experiment from the University of Florida, according to a statement on the Galactic website.
“When I first heard that I was getting this opportunity, it was just. I think that that probably captured it very well, I was speechless. This is an incredible opportunity to get people from different backgrounds, different geographies and different communities into space,” she said in a video posted on Virgin Galactic Twitter on July 6.
Her grandfather, Dr Ragaiah, a retired scientist told Reuters in India, she had always been fascinated by space.
“From the beginning, she was very much fascinated towards the sky, looking at the sky, space, how to enter space and what is there,” he said.
“I am very happy and overwhelmed with joy.”
Bandla, who developed an early interest in space, completed her studies in the relevant field before joining Virgin Galactic in 2015.
She grew up in Houston, near NASA’s Johnson Space Centre, and while at school, always wanted to join the Air Force to become an astronaut at NASA later. But her poor eyesight prevented her becoming a pilot or an astronaut. But she studied to become an aeronautical engineer instead that will realise her dreams now.
For the first time, Virgin Galactic will share a global livestream and will be available to watch on the company’s website and other social media channels, starting 1am (July 12- NZST).