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Meet Sirisha Bandla, the Indian-American flying to space with Richard Branson

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Indian-American astronaut Sirisha Bandla will be flying to space with Richard Branson, Virgin Galactic’s billionaire founder, and four others on July 11.

Meet Sirisha Bandla, the Indian-American flying to space with Richard Branson
Indian-American astronaut Sirisha Bandla will be flying to space with Richard Branson, Virgin Galactic’s billionaire founder, and four others on July 11. The Guntur-born aerospace engineer will be the second Indian-born woman to go to space after Kalpana Chawla.
She will be the fourth Indian to fly into space after Rakesh Sharma, Kalpana Chawla, and Sunita Lyn Williams.
Bandla, who is in her early 30s, started working at Virgin Galactic in 2015 and is currently the vice president of government affairs and research operations of the company.
Bandla tweeted Friday, “I am so incredibly honored 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.”
Former Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu also tweeted, "Indian-origin women continue to break the proverbial glass ceiling and prove their mettle. On July 11th, @SirishaBandla with Telugu roots is set to fly to space aboard VSS Unity with @RichardBranson and the team marking the dawn of the new space age, making all Indians proud!"
Born in Guntur, Andhra Pradesh, she grew up in Texas, United States. “I grew up in Houston, Texas, so we had Johnson Space Centre right down the street. We took a lot of field trips there and it really instilled in my mind how cool space was to me,” she said in an interview.
Her father Muralidhar Bandla, an agriculture scientist, migrated to the US for better opportunities. He is presently working with the US Embassy in India.
Bandla studied aeronautical/astronautical engineering from Purdue University and has an MBA degree from George Washington University.
She has served as the associate director for the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, an industry association of commercial spaceflight companies.
Besides, she was an aerospace engineer designing components for advanced aircraft at L-3 Communications in Greenville, Texas.
She was also associated with the Telugu Association of North America (TANA), the oldest and biggest Indo-American organisation in the region. A few years ago, TANA honoured her with the Youth Star Award.
Virgin Galactic’s rocket ship is set to take off from New Mexico on July 11. This will be the fourth trip to space for Virgin Galactic. Meanwhile, Amazon and Blue Origins founder Jeff Bezos will fly into space on his New Shepard rocket on July 20, which marks the 52nd anniversary of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s moon landing.
Both the billionaires, Bezos and Branson, are competing in the suborbital tourism race to take paid passengers on short flights to the ‘edge of space’.
Branson’s successful maiden flight in VSS Unity spaceplane will mark a key milestone in a new era of private commercial space travel.
The space tourism market size could be around $3 billion per annum by 2030, estimates UBS in a Reuters report.
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