Seeing Earth from space, an incredible, life-changing experience: Bandla

Indian-American Sirisha Bandla, on July 12, joined British billionaire Richard Branson and four others on board Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Unity to make a journey to the edge of space.

Published - July 12, 2021 01:47 pm IST - Houston

Sirisha Bandla looks out the window at Earth in zero gravity on board Virgin Galactic's passenger rocket plane VSS Unity after reaching the edge of space on July 11, 2021.

Sirisha Bandla looks out the window at Earth in zero gravity on board Virgin Galactic's passenger rocket plane VSS Unity after reaching the edge of space on July 11, 2021.

Indian-American astronaut Sirisha Bandla said it was an “incredible” and “life-changing” experience to see the Earth from space during her maiden trip on Virgin Galactic’s first fully-crewed suborbital test flight and hoped the cost for space travel would come down in the future.

Ms. Bandla, a 34-year-old aeronautical engineer, on July 12, joined British billionaire Richard Branson and four others on board Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Unity to make a journey to the edge of space from the U.S. state of New Mexico.

They reached an altitude of about 88 km over the New Mexico desert — enough to see the curvature of the Earth. The crew experienced a few minutes of weightlessness before making a gliding descent back to Earth.

Also read: Bezos, Branson and Musk: Who is winning the space tourism race?

“I am kind of still up there but (I’m) so glad to be here. I was trying to think of a better word than incredible but that is the only word that comes to my mind...Seeing the view of Earth is so life-changing...The whole trip to space and back is just amazing,” Ms. Bandla told NBC News in an interview.

Ms. Bandla described the moment as emotional, adding, “I have been dreaming of going to space since I was young and it is literally a dream come true.”

Sirisha Bandla, was astronaut No 004 and her flight role was Researcher Experience aboard Virgin Galactic’s first fully-crewed suborbital test flight.

Sirisha Bandla, was astronaut No 004 and her flight role was Researcher Experience aboard Virgin Galactic’s first fully-crewed suborbital test flight.

“I have wanted to be an astronaut but I wasn’t able to go in the traditional National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) role and I took a very unconventional way to go to space and I do believe that a lot of people are going to be able to experience this and that’s why we are here,” she said.

Ms. Bandla’s poor eyesight could not meet the requirements to become a pilot or an astronaut for NASA.

‘Hope the cost would come down’

On being asked if this was just a joyride for the rich, she said “As Virgin Galactic builds up...we have got two more spaceships in the manufacture and we hope the cost would come down.”

Ms. Bandla, who was born in Guntur district in Andhra Pradesh and brought up in Houston, was astronaut No 004 and her flight role was Researcher Experience. The other crew members were two pilots and three other crewmates, including billionaire Branson, who turns 71 in a week.

She became the third Indian-origin woman to fly into space after Kalpana Chawla and Sunita Williams. Wing Commander Rakesh Sharma is the only Indian citizen to travel in space. The former Indian Air Force pilot flew aboard Soyuz T-11 on April 3, 1984, as part of the Soviet Interkosmos programme.

Ms. Bandla moved to the U.S. when she was four years old and graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree from the School of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Purdue University, in 2011. She finished her Master of Business Administration degree from George Washington University in 2015.

The crew reached an altitude of about 88 km over the New Mexico desert — enough to see the curvature of the Earth — and experienced a few minutes of weightlessness before making a gliding descent back to Earth.

The crew reached an altitude of about 88 km over the New Mexico desert — enough to see the curvature of the Earth — and experienced a few minutes of weightlessness before making a gliding descent back to Earth.

Virgin Galactic — the business Mr. Branson started in 2004 — aims to fly private citizens to the edge of space. The trips are designed to permit passengers to experience three to four minutes of weightlessness and observe the curvature of Earth.

The Virgin Galactic carrier can launch up to eight people (two pilots and six passengers) on the Unity 22 flight, but on July 11, there were only six occupants (two pilots and four passengers).

The four mission specialists evaluated different experiences that Virgin Galactic has promised its future customers, many of whom have already reserved trips to space with the company at $250,000 a seat.

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