Indian American astronaut Sirisha Bandla shared her experience of seeing Earth from space for the first time in her maiden trip on Virgin Galactic's first fully crewed suborbital test flight. She called the experience "incredible" and "life-changing". The 34-year-old Andhra Pradesh born aeronautical engineer joined British billionaire Richard Branson along with four others on board Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo Unity on a space trip on Sunday from the US state of New Mexico. The crew returned to Earth after making it to an altitude of about 88 km over the New Mexico desert, enough for them to take a peek at Earth's curvature.
"I am kind of still up there but it's so glad to be here. I was trying to think about a better word than incredible but that is the only word that can come to my mind... Seeing the view of Earth is so life-changing but also boosts the rocket motor kicking in. The whole trip to space and back is just amazing", Bandla told NBC News in an interview.
Emotionally describing the moment Bandla said, "I have been dreaming of going to space since I was young and literally it is a dream come true,"
Bandla wanted to be an astronaut, but she could not achieve her dream to become an astronaut for NASA or become a pilot due to poor eyesight.
"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.
Bandla moved to Houston at the age of 4 and holds a Bachelor of Science degree from the School of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Purdue University, and a Master of Business Administration degree from George Washington University. She became the third Indian-origin woman to fly into space after Kalpana Chawla and Sunita Williams. She was astronaut no 004 and her flight role was Researcher Experience.
Richard Branson who turns 71 this week founded Virgin Galactic in 2004 intending to make space available for tourism. The space trips are planned to make the passengers feel three to four minutes of weightlessness and witness the curvature of Earth.
The Virgin Galactic initially planned to launch eight people (two pilots and six passengers) on the Unity 22 flight but was only able to do so with six occupants (two pilots and four passengers) on Sunday.
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