On 2nd July 2021, former chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, N. Chandrababu Naidu tweeted, "Indian-origin women continue to break the proverbial glass ceiling and prove their mettle. On July 11th, @SirishBandla with Telugu roots is set to fly to space aboard VSS Unity with @RichardBranson and the team marking the dawn of the new space age, making all Indians proud". The tweet is about the 34-year-old Sirisha Bandla, born in Andhra Pradesh and grew up in Huston, an astronaut number 4 on the crew of the Unity 22 mission.
At present, Bandla is the Vice President of Government Affairs and research operations at the Virgin Galatic. Virgin Galatic's Richard Branson on Thursday said that the company's next rocket-powered test flight will take off with six people on board, including himself. It will only be the fourth trip for the company.
Sirisha Bandla earned her bachelor's degree in aeronautical and astronautical engineering from Purdue University in Indiana. Bandla also has a Master’s degree in Business Administration (MBA) from Georgetown University.
Previously, she had served as an Associate Director of the Washington DC-based commercial space flight federation (CSF) till 2005, after which she joined Virgin Galatic. In the upcoming Unity 22 mission, she will be a testing researcher.
Last year, one of her interactions, during the ‘Mathew Isakowitz Fellowship Program (MIFP)’ highlighted the importance of representation and the need for youngsters to participate in the "commercial space industry". She focused on how these programs could be of help for women and "people of colour" who wanted them to be a part of the industry.
While confirming her test flight, Bandla tweeted that "I am so incredibly honoured to be a part of the amazing crew of Unity 22, and to be a part of a company whose mission is to make space available to all".
She is the third Indian-origin woman to travel to space, after Kalpna Chawla and Sunita Williams.
Bandla belongs to a family of science graduates. Her maternal grandfather, Venkat Narsaiah, who hails from the Prakasam district, worked as a professor of Chemistry. Her paternal grandfather, who now resides in the Guntur district, retired as a principal scientist from a government-run agriculture university. Her father, Bandla Muralidhar, is a scientist employed by the US government. Her elder sister Pratyusha Bandla is a Biological science Technician in Maryland.
Her family in India are excited about her new and fascinating journey. Her maternal grandfather, Venkat Narsaiah, talks about Bandla: "She was a courageous and confident girl right from a young age". Narsaiah also mentioned her dream to NASA, but unfortunately, she could not make it. And the disappointment only made her resolve stronger to be a part of a space mission. Sirisha was last seen by Narasaiah in 2019, but he had no idea that she would be on the verge of making history two years later. Sirisha Bandla is a true inspiration for millions of women around the globe.
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