GUNTUR: Swashbuckling entrepreneur Richard Branson hurtled into space, along with Sirisha Bandla, who was born in Tenali of Andhra Pradesh, and four others aboard his own winged rocket ship on Sunday in his boldest adventure yet, beating out fellow billionaire Jeff Bezos.
The nearly 71-year-old Branson and five crewmates from his Virgin Galactic space tourism company reached an altitude of about 53 miles (88 kilometers) over the New Mexico desert ‘enough to experience three to four minutes of weightlessness and see the curvature of the Earth’ and then safely glided back home to a runway landing.
“Seventeen years of hard work to get us this far,” a jubilant Branson said as he congratulated his team on the trip back. Before her space odyssey, Sirisha signed the logbook as ‘Astronaut 004’.
Sirisha, who grew up in Houston since she was 5-year-old, became the third Indian origin woman and the first Telugu to fly into space after Kalpana Chawla and Sunita Williams. Rakesh Sharma was the other Indian, who made it to space.
Sirisha’s grandfather Dr Bandla Ragaiah, a resident of Piduguralla in Guntur district, who watched the live stream of Virgin Galactic Unity 22 spaceflight launch, said, “I’m so happy that I got to experience the journey of my granddaughter into space as an astronaut for the first time. All day I was a bit anxious and wished that she would return safely along with her fellow crew members. Her dream is to enter space. Today, watching her pursuing her dream is a moment of great joy for me and I’m so happy and proud of her.”
“I congratulate her and the entire team for their safe journey and making it possible for more people to enter space in the near future. I wanted to say that, if we give everything we have, we can definitely achieve our dream, even if it is space,” an elated Dr Ragaiah added.
Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy congratulated Sirisha on her successful flight to space and said it is a proud moment for AP. “The trajectory of the 34-year-old aeronautical engineer has been amazing as she has reached great heights,” he said.
Governor Biswa Bhusan Harichandan also congratulated Sirisha for her historic journey into space. Vice-President M Venkaiah Naidu said her achievement will motivate many more young girls to take up challenging careers. “I am so incredibly honoured 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,” Sirisha tweeted days before the flight.
“When I first heard that I was getting this opportunity, it was just… I was speechless. I think that probably captured it very well. This is an incredible opportunity to get people from different backgrounds, different geographies and different communities into space,” she said in a video posted on the Twitter handle of Virgin Galactic on July 6.