Sirisha Bandla, who dreamed of going to space as a baby, lastly fulfilled it final month when she visited the sting of space on board a Virgin Galactic spacecraft with billionaire Richard Branson.
The 34-year-old, who’s an aeronautical engineer and works at Virgin Galactic, spoke to Hindustan Times’ Kumkum Chadha on ‘The Interview’ about her India connect and what impressed her to pursue her desires.
Bandla additionally talked about how her dream got here true, what her household thought when she went to space and what she needs to do sooner or later.
Here are the excerpts from the interview:
‘My consolation meals is mother’s rooster curry’
Bandla mentioned she all the time had this dream of going to space in the future. When she visited her grandparent’s home in Andhra Pradesh, she would stare on the darkish evening sky and marvel what lies past the celebs.
“When I was around 15-16, my eyesight got pretty bad, past the requirements that were allowed for being an astronaut through Nasa. At that point, I was trying to figure out where I’d go. And around that same time, the contest happened which would award the prize money to a company that could build a reusable spacecraft that could go to space twice. Spaceship One did that. Around the same time, Richard Branson announced that he is creating Virgin Galactic which will open space access for all. I remember thinking that that’s just incredible, I can still be an astronaut and I’ll be working for Virgin Galactic and that’s how I’m gonna get to space,” she mentioned.
Bandla mentioned she was in a position to get a job at Virgin Galactic and her flight to space is only a testomony to the company’s mission. “The company’s goal is to open space access for all and fly people from different backgrounds, different geographic regions and cultures to space,” she added.
When requested about her Indian roots and whether or not she now enjoys the meals within the US, Bandla mentioned, “I do love pizza but my comfort food is my mom’s chicken curry and lentil curry.”
So when did she begin dreaming about turning into an astronaut? “I don’t know where it exactly manifested. I think it started with me sitting on the roof (at my grandparents’ house) and looking out at stars and wondering what’s there, what’s beyond Earth. I also love science fiction, so that definitely played a part. Star Trek – watching the crew of The Enterprise go into the unknown and make all these discoveries – I think that played a part. I did grow up a few in Houston, very close to the Johnson Space Centre. I was able to visit the space centre, listen to how astronauts described about being in space. All of that combined really instilled in me that I wanted to go and see it for myself.”
‘Went to my husband’s office cheering and leaping’
Bandla mentioned when she acquired the information that she had been chosen to go to space, she was actually excited. “When I got the news, I ran to my husband’s office, cheering and kinda jumping around. He actually had this in the back of his mind that I was going to share some incredible news. He has been hearing me talk about nothing else but space for years and has been so supportive of the journey. He was happy for me,” she mentioned.
“He has been absolutely great in supporting everything that I need to reach my dreams. I have been travelling quite a bit, and these last few weeks, he has been taking care of everything. He has been a part of my ground support crew here on my way to space,” Bandla added.
‘Call got here on weekend, I assumed one thing was unsuitable at office’
“When I first got the call, I assumed something went wrong at work because the call came a little bit late, and on a weekend. I picked up the phone and our president asked if I’d be interested in being part of one of the crews that’s going to space. Without hesitation, I said yes. He said ‘Take some time, think about it’. I said ‘Okay, I’ve thought about it. Yes’,” recalled Bandla.
“It was an incredible news to get and very unexpected at the time. Besides saying yes, I couldn’t formulate any other words to encompass my feelings of excitement at that moment,” she mentioned additional.
‘Weightlessness unbelievable expertise, we have been flying’
Bandla mentioned all the crew had ready for the launch and described how the hybrid car system labored. “It consisted of an aircraft and a spacecraft. On the day of the flight, both were mated and then it took off together. We got up to about 45,000 feet, and the aircraft released the spacecraft. A few seconds later, the spacecraft started its rocket motor for about 60 seconds. And that’s when we felt the booster shot. We felt around three times our weight on that boost. But it was a very comfortable ride,” mentioned Bandla.
“The rocket boost took us to our apogee, and once it shut off, we felt the microgravity environment. It was an environment where Gs were very close to zero. At that point, you feel like you are flying. That’s when we unbuckled and were floating around the cabin. I also did a few somersaults, and carried out the science experiment which I was carrying with me. We then looked out of the window and that was really an incredible view and experience in itself,” the astronaut mentioned.
She mentioned that although the expertise was surreal, it made her realise the issues that she has as a part of her life on Earth. “Looking at the black sky gave me a renewed appreciation of everything I’m seeing on Earth, whether it’s the blue sky or the trees on my block when I am walking,” mentioned Bandla.
‘Kalpana Chawla was an inspiration’
“I saw Kalpana Chawla’s career very early. I looked at what she did to go to space and really tried to model my career. That is the reason I went to Purdue University to pursue aeronautical engineering. So I think she was an inspiration. She was one of the first people that I saw that had the same skin colour that I had and came from the same country. That kind of identity that I shared with her helped reduce mental barriers I had. I hope to do the same for young women who are thinking if they can pursue a career in aerospace,” she added.
“I hope I have made Kalpana Chawla proud. I am sure she inspired many women, that was part of her legacy in addition to incredible technical achievements she’s done at Nasa and in her career,” mentioned Bandla.
Walking on the moon
Bandla mentioned she actually needs to stroll on the moon. “Maybe go to Mars too. But I also really believe in the vision of making space available for all. It has changed my life, and I think there’s a lot of other people that would like to have that same experience and may think that they do not have the opportunity. I think we’re gonna see more change in perceptions when more people go into space, people that are more diverse,” she mentioned.
‘Hope to be a mentor’
Bandla additionally talked concerning the under-representation of girls within the discipline of space analysis. She mentioned that almost a 100 ladies have really gone to space “and the number of women of colour is even less”. The 34-year-old mentioned that she needs to vary the state of affairs and be a mentor to ladies who really dream about going to space. “The way I got through it was having mentors, especially women that are in the field and have gone through a lot of what I have gone through. I hope to be that mentor for a lot of women. It’s one of the biggest piece of advices I give to women – find yourself a mentor.”
On future missions
Bandla mentioned that one of many aims of the Virgin Galactic mission was to review how future space expeditions may be carried out effectively. Speaking concerning the remark of Nasa’s Bhavya Lal about discovering clear garments to minimize the burden of space ships, Bandla mentioned these are the problems all the trade is trying to deal with. “There are a lot of problems that we need to address before we go to farther destinations. Laundry is definitely one of them.”