New York: Indian-origin aeronautical engineer Sirisha Bandla took off for space on Sunday onboard the VSS Unity 22 becoming the fourth astronaut of Indian descent.
Born in the Guntur district of Andra Pradesh, Bandla (33) is the second Indian-born woman in space and the fourth Indian to ever achieve the feat after Rakesh Sharma, Kalpana Chawla, and Indian-American Sunita Williams.
The VSS Unity 22 flight took off on Sunday carrying a Virgin Galactic rocket plane in the vehicle's first fully crewed test flight to space. British billionaire Richard Branson is being accompanied by five other passengers including Bandla, in what Branson has touted as the beginning of space tourism.
The Virgin Galactic's spacecraft reached the 100-km altitude that marks the entry into space after taking off from Spaceport America in New Mexico and returned to the base after a flight of about 90 minutes.
During the space flight, Bandla was scheduled to conduct experiments designed by the US government's pioneer space agency, NASA involving plants in microgravity.
Bandla, the Virgin Galactic Vice President for Government Relations, is an astronautical engineer by training.
Before her flight, she said on an interview on a Virgin Galactic broadcast that her adventure was an incredible opportunity to get people from different backgrounds, different geographies and different communities into space.
The others on the VSS Unity flight were Beth Moses, Virgin Galactic's chief astronaut instructor and Colin Bennett, the lead operations engineer which was piloted by former Royal Air Force test pilot Dave Mackay and former NASA Space Shuttle Commander Michael Masucci.
Bandla will also be the third Indian American in space after Kalpana Chawla and Sunita Pandya Williams and the fourth person of Indian descent -- the first being Rakesh Sharma, who flew on a Soviet spacecraft.
But unlike them, Bandla did not go into orbit and her flight was a short one to demonstrate the capability of Branson's space programme, a breakthrough in the commercialisation of space travel by private entrepreneurs.