Sirisha Bandla, a 34-year-old aeronautical engineer, is set to fly into space onboard Virgin Galactic's first fully crewed flight test on Sunday. Bandla will join Sir Richard Branson, the company's billionaire founder, and five others onboard SpaceShipTwo Unity to make a journey to the edge of space from New Mexico.
The “Unity 22” mission will be the twenty-second flight test for VSS Unity and the company’s fourth crewed spaceflight. It will also be the first to carry a full crew of two pilots and four mission specialists in the cabin, including the company’s founder, Sir Branson, who will be testing the private astronaut experience.
In a tweet, Bandla said that she felt honoured to be a part of the crew.
"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," she tweeted.
"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.
5 things to know
- Sirisha Bandla will be astronaut no 004 and her flight role will be Researcher Experience.
- A Purdue University alumna, Bandla will be evaluating the human-tended research experience, 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.
- Bandla will become the third Indian-origin woman to fly into space after Kalpana Chawla and Sunita Williams.
- She started her role as the Vice President of Government Affairs and Research Operations at Virgin Galactic in January 2021.
- She grew up in Houston, near NASA’s Johnson Space Center, and always wanted to become an astronaut. But poor eyesight meant she could not meet the requirements to become a pilot or an astronaut, derailing her high-school plan to go the Air Force-to-NASA route.