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Indian-origin aeronautical engineer set to fly into space with Virgin Galactic

Houston: Sirisha Bandla, 34, an aeronautical engineer, will become the third woman of Indian descent to fly into space on Virgin Galactic’s first crewed flight test on Sunday. Born in Guntur district in Andhra Pradesh and brought up in Texas, Bandla will join Sir Richard Branson, the company’s billionaire owner, and five others to reach the edge of space on the SpaceShipTwo Unity from New Mexico.

She tweeted: ‘I am so extremely honored to be a part of the incredible team at #Unity22, and to be a part of a company whose mission it is to make space accessible to everyone.’

According to her Virgin Galactic profile, Bandla will be astronaut no 004 and her flight role will be Researcher Experience.

After Kalpana Chawla and Sunita Williams, she will be the third woman of Indian descent to fly into space.

‘When I first heard I had been given this opportunity, I was completely speechless. This is an amazing opportunity for people of all backgrounds, all regions, and all communities,’ she said in a video posted on Virgin Galactic’s Twitter on July 6. ‘Virgin Galactic will also broadcast the live stream on Virgin Galactic.com, as well as on its Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook channels. On the day of the flight, it will most likely begin at 9:00 am EDT (6:30 pm IST),’ she added.

Bandla, a Purdue University alumna, will examine the human-tended research experience using an experiment from the University of Florida that requires several handheld fixation tubes that will be activated on the flight profile, the Galactic website said. She started her career as the Vice President of Government Affairs and Research Operations at Virgin Galactic in January 2021, the university said in a statement.

Bandla grew up in Houston, near NASA’s Johnson Space Center, and dreamed of becoming an astronaut. However, her poor eyesight prevented her from becoming a pilot or astronaut, which derailed her high-school plan to join the Air Force and then NASA, she said in the statement.

Bandla said in 2021, “I have fond memories of my time at Purdue, being part of a group of passionate individuals… Purdue laid the strong foundation of technical and programmatic principles we have all carried into our successful careers.”.

The next rocket-powered test flight of its SpaceShipTwo Unity is set for July 11, pending weather and technical checks, Galactic said in a statement.

The ‘Unity 22’ mission will be the twenty-second flight test for the VSS Unity and the company’s fourth crewed spaceflight. It will also be the first to include a full crew in the cabin, which includes Branson, the company’s founder, who will test the private astronaut experience, it said.

‘Throughout my life, my mom 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 Virgin Galactic flight,’ Branson tweeted after the announcement on July 2.

Based on the success of the company’s most recent spaceflight in May, Unity 22 will focus on cabin and customer experience objectives.


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