Virgin Galactic’s test spaceflight on July 11 will have, besides Richard Branson, India-born Sirisha Bandla and four others from the company on board

Published : July 03, 2021 21:29 IST

This image provided by Virgin Galactic shows (from left): Chief Pilot Dave Mackay, Lead Operations Engineer Colin Bennett, Chief Astronaut Instructor Beth Moses, founder of Virgin Galactic Richard Branson, Vice President of Government Affairs and Research Operations Sirisha Bandla and pilot Michael Masucci. Photo: AP

Space tourism firm Virgin Galactic’s test spaceflight announced to happen on July 11 will have an Indian connection: Astronaut No 4 Sirisha Bandla, who was born in Guntur, Andhra Pradesh, and grew up in Texas. Sirisha Bandla, 34, will be among the six persons, including the company’s founder Sir Richard Branson, on board the winged spaceship when it soars from Virgin Galactic’s Spaceport America base in New Mexico.

The July 11 flight will be Virgin Galactic’s fourth trip to space but its first carrying a full crew of only its employees. Also accompanying Sirisha Bandla and Branson will be mission specialists Beth Moses, Colin Engineer and pilots Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci. The July 11 flight would beat billionaire Jeff Bezos’ race to space by nine days.

VSS Unity will be launched from an aircraft mid-air and is expected to reach an altitude of 88,000 metres above mean sea level as it ascends towards the edge of space, making it officially a sub-orbital flight. Sirisha Bandla will become only the fourth person of Indian origin to go into space. Wg Cdr Rakesh Sharma (retd) was the first, and the other two were Kalpana Chawla and Indian American astronaut Sunita Lyn Williams.

Born to Dr Bandla Muralidhar, a scientist and a member of Senior Executive Services in the United States government, and Bandla Anuradha, Sirisha Bandla has a BS degree in erospace, aeronautical and astronautical engineering from Purdue University, Indiana. She also has a post graduate degree in business administration from George Washington University. She serves on the board of directors of the American Astronautical Society and Future Space Leaders Foundation, and is a member of the Young Professional Advisory Council at Purdue University. Having essayed key roles, initially as Virgin Galactic’s Business Development and Government Affairs Manager and then as Virgin Orbit’s Director of Washington Operations, Sirisha Bandla is currently Vice President of Government Affairs at Virgin Galactic.

In an interview published in Virgin Galactic’s website, Sirisha Bandla said knowing about Kalpana Chawla made her consider a career in space. “I never felt it could be a career for me till I learned about Kalpana Chawla, the first woman of Indian origin to travel to space. It inspired me to go ahead,” Sirisha Bandla is quoted as saying.

VSS Unity, which is designed to carry six passengers and two pilots, has been tested 22 times. Virgin Galactic has scheduled three more test flights before it undertakes its first revenue-generating mission for the Italian Air Force.

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