While Richard Branson is dominating headlines as the first billionaire astronaut, one of his companions made history of her own: Sirisha Bandla became just the third Indian woman to launch into outer space on Sunday.
Bandla, an aeronautical engineer and vice president of government affairs at Virgin Galactic, was born in India and raised in Houston. According to NDTV, the graduate of Purdue’s School of Aeronautics and Astronautics always wished to become a NASA astronaut.
She could not do so, however, because of her poor vision. She instead earned an MBA at George Washington University and joined Virgin Galactic’s government affairs department.
“I was speechless. I think that that probably captured it very well,” Bandla said in a video of learning about her chance to go to space.
Bandla did not sit idle during the journey to space, CNN News18 reported. She operated data collection for a NASA research experiment on the Unity 22 flight by activating “plant-filled tubes.”
Bandla served as one of six crewmates aboard the VSS Unity. According to the Wall Street Journal, the plane was shuttled through the atmosphere by a larger aircraft before detaching and using an onboard rocket to fly to outer space.
The plane reached a height of over 50 miles above the ground before briefly suspending and eventually gliding down to Earth.
Bandla said she hopes her achievement can set a precedent for more people from underrepresented backgrounds to go to space. According to Newsweek, she told the spaceflight mentorship program Matthew Isakowitz Fellowship that women and people of color are still rarities in the field.
“I don’t often see students that look like myself in this industry just yet,” she said.
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