Sirisha Bandla couldn't quite articulate the experience.
She wanted something better than “incredible” to describe the suborbital flight to space on Virgin Galactic's VSS Unity on July 11, but that's ultimately what settled in her mind soon after realizing a dream she'd held since childhood.
And another she probably hadn't quite articulated.
Bandla not only became a commercial astronaut with the flight, reaching 53.5 miles above the Earth, but she also officially was anointed into Purdue University's Cradle of Astronauts. Bandla (BSAAE '11) is the 26th member of the Cradle and 17th AAE alum.
“Seeing the view of Earth is life-changing,” Bandla told NBC News after the flight. “But also the boost, the rocket motor kicking in. The whole trip to space and back has just been amazing.”
Bandla, the company's vice president for government affairs and research operations, was one of four mission specialists on the flight, the first fully crewed for Virgin Galactic. Her role was to evaluate the researcher experience.
Bandla is only the second commercial astronaut in the Cradle. The first also was on VSS Unity. Beth Moses, the company's Chief Astronaut Instructor, served as cabin lead and test director in space, overseeing the safe and efficient execution of the test flight objectives.
“Truly phenomenal the second time,” Moses (BSAAE '92, MSAAE '94) said in the post-flight press conference. Like Moses before her, Bandla made sure to honor her alma mater on her historic flight.
Tucked inside the inner pocket of Bandla's spacesuit was a small pennant, which she later gifted to the School. When asked in the press conference after the flight that she took to space, Bandla shared the news and then followed with “Boiler up!” To which Moses chimed in, “Go Boilers!”