Sirisha Bandla goes to space: ‘Consistently needed to investigate sky, stars’


When business magnate Richard Branson fulfilled his old dream of flying to space on Sunday, among the five people that accompanied him on the “magical” trip was a 33-year-old woman with roots in Andhra Pradesh’s Guntur.

Sirisha Bandla, vice chairman of state affairs and research operations at Branson’s Virgin Galactic, became the third woman of Indian origin — after NASA astronauts Kalpana Chawla and Sunita Williams — to fly to space.

“From a really young age, she had this ambition to explore the sky, the moon, and therefore the stars. Sirisha had set her eyes on space, and that I am not in the least surprised that she is ready to understand her dream,” Sirisha’s grandfather Dr. Bandla Nagaiah told The Indian Express before the flight commenced on Sunday.

“After hearing the news that she was a part of the team to travel into space, I called her. She was driving but still answered the decision. once I congratulated her, she said yes, finally it’s happening, and said ‘thank you, that (grandfather)’,’’ Dr. Nagaiah said.

Branson, Sirisha, and 4 others — pilots David Mackay and Michael Masucci, Virgin Galactic’s chief astronaut instructor Beth Moses, and lead operations engineer Colin Bennett — traveled to the sting of space before returning to earth aboard the Galactic Unity 22 spacecraft.

“She visited Guntur last November, and as was common she was filled with energy and bubbling with ideas. She didn’t mention getting to space when she visited last time but she did mention that she was doing very significant work. She is extremely decisive and has excellent leadership qualities,” Nagaiah, who retired as an agriculture scientist from Acharya N G Ranga Agricultural University, said.

Sirisha was born in Chirala in her maternal grandmother’s home. The family then moved to Tenali in Guntur. Till the age of 5, Sirisha hung out between Hyderabad where Nagaiah lived and Tenali at her grandmother’s house.

Thereafter, she traveled to Houston to hitch her parents within us. Sirisha’s parents, who are United States government employees, are currently posted in India.

Sirisha and her elder sister are very affectionate, and have always stayed in-tuned with their grandparents, Nagaiah said. All that they had to try to do was turn their phone and leave a message, and therefore the sisters would call back without fail, he said.

“For several years, they wont to visit India almost per annum, sometimes twice. In Houston, Sirisha was interested in the activities and news of NASA’s space exploration. She was keen on aeronautics and aerospace since she was very young. I knew that she was destined to try to do great things,” he said.

“When she was a toddler, she wont to ask tons of questions on airplanes, the sky, spaceflight, etc. She wont to write down her thoughts and concepts about sky and space, which I now think were documents of what she wanted to try to within the future,’’ Nagaiah said.

“I am recovering from Covid-19, but I’m so happy and proud to speak about my granddaughter. She is making everyone proud. it’s one thing to dream about getting to space but to truly achieve it requires tons of dedication and perseverance and she or he has that in plenty.’’

Nagaiah said Sirisha did her Bachelor’s in aerospace aeronautical engineering from Purdue University, and later did a Masters in Business Administration from Washington University.

“When she returns with the feather of spaceflight in her cap, I will be able to have an exquisite chat together with her,” Nagaiah said.

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