Sirisha Bandla- A Life

On June 7, 2021, when Jeff Bezos announced that he planned to be aboard the first crewed flight of Blue Origin – the first suborbital spaceflight funded privately – it set off what would be dubbed in popular media as the first ‘billionaire space race’. On July 1, 2021, Richard Branson, not one to be left behind, revealed that Virgin Galactic’s next test flight would be on July 11,
beating Bezos by nine days. He would be among six people on board, but arguably the most popular passenger on this side of the Atlantic was Sirisha Bandla, a Guntur-born TeleguAmerican, who subsequently became only the third woman of Indian origin to go to space, after Kalpana Chawla and Sunita Williams.

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Early Life & Education

Born in a Telugu speaking family in Andhra Pradesh in 1987; until the age of five, Bandla split her time between her grandfather’s house in Hyderabad and her grandmother’s house in Tenali. According to her grandfather, Dr. Bandla Ragaiah, she harboured dreams to go to space from young age. An unfailingly curious child, she constantly asked questions about aeroplanes, the sky and space, signaling her ambition. She eventually moved to Houston, United States (close to NASA’s Johnson Space Center) to live with her parents at the age of four.

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While excelling in high school, Bandla never lost sight of her early dreams. As a teenager, she received a license to fly single-engine aircrafts and interned at NASA. However, poor eyesight meant that her initial plans to go the Air Force-to-NASA route were derailed. Never one to back down, she eventually enrolled in Purdue University for a bachelor’s degree in Aeronautical Engineering. She would later reminisce about her time there, stating that she was fortunate to be a part of a group of ‘passionate individuals’. Her education built a strong foundation of technical and programmatic principles that she, along with her peers, carried into their successful careers. She later received an MBA from Georgetown University in Washington, DC.

Early Career

Bandla began her career as an Associate Director with the Commercial Spaceflight Federation in DC. A private spaceflight industry group, they work on public advocacy in the commercial space sector. Its Executive Members include Virgin Galactic where Bandla moved to in July 2015.

During her time at the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, Bandla worked with aerospace engineer Matthew Isakowitz. She later co-founded the Matthew Isakowitz Fellowship Program in his honour in 2017. The Program connects exceptional college students with innovative space companies like SpaceX, Millennium Space Systems, Virgin Galactic and offers them paid, summer internships in the field of commercial spaceflight.

Source – Matthew Isakowitz Fellowship Program

Virgin Galactic

Bandla began working at Virgin Galactic, founded by the billionaire business magnate Richard Branson in 2004, in 2015. She progressed from the Government Affairs department to the Business Development & Government Affairs Manager in October 2017. She worked as the Director of Washington Operations till January 2021 before being promoted to the Vice
President of Government Affairs, six months before her maiden spaceflight. 

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Virgin Galactic – Unity 22

The crew for Virgin Galactic’s first fully crewed spaceflight consisted of six individuals: David Mackay (the first native born Scot to visit space), Michael Masucci, Sirisha Bandla, Beth Moses (the first woman to make a spaceflight on a commercially launched vehicle) and Richard Branson.

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On 11 July 2021, at 08:40 local time, VSS Unity’s mothership VMS Eve took off from the company’s Spaceport America facility in New Mexico and carried VSS Unity in a parasite configuration to be drop-launched. At T+2:38, Unity reached apogee at 282,773 ft. (86,189 m) altitude. Her total time in space was 1 minute and 10 seconds.
It is important to note that Bandla is classified as a space tourist, and not an astronaut by the Federal Aviation Authority. As it was an automated launch, she was not a member of the Flight Crew. Additionally, while the space boundary as defined by the United States and NASA stands at 80 km (50 m), the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) defines the Kármán line at 100 km (62 m). Therefore, there is ongoing debate regarding whether they reached space, depending on the specific definition that is used. 

Source – Virgin Galactic

What Next?

The ongoing advances in commercial spaceflight mean that space is more accessible than ever. Engineering and policy problems remain but the launches of Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin and SpaceX have heralded in a new era of spaceflight. While Sirisha has become one of the earliest pioneers in this field, she will likely not be the last.

For millions of school-aged children across the globe, advances in aviation technology will incentivize further education in STEM to become next generation leaders in this field. Sirisha, in particular, has inspired countless girls across India and taught them a valuable lesson that ambition and hardwork are the only precursors to success.

Written by- Anusha Paul Choudhury
Edited by- Krish Sharma 

The post Sirisha Bandla- A Life appeared first on The Economic Transcript.

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