The Air Up There Podcast
It's Just Rocket Science

Season 4, Episode 8
Published:

Anyone who has ever had a goal is probably familiar with the phrase, "the sky's the limit." Ironically, that logic can be quite limiting because, for some, the sky is just the beginning. Take Sirisha Bandla, for example. Once upon a time, Sirisha was on a rooftop, gazing at the stars and wondering what it would be like to explore what's out there. Then, in 2021, she joined Virgin Galactic's Unity 22 suborbital flight and became the second India-born woman to fly to space!

Curiosities can turn into out-of-this-world realities with the right knowledge, focus, and determination. In our newest podcast episode, "It's Just Rocket Science," we give you all the proof.

In this episode, we speak with Sirisha Bandla and JaciLynn Poteet, an FAA commercial space safety inspector and rocket scientist. They tell us about their career trajectories, what it took for them to get there, and what's important to them in their field of work. They also give listeners advice for pursuing their dreams.

After this episode, you'll be ready to, literally, reach for the stars. Learn more about Commercial Human Spaceflight at faa.gov/space, and if you like this episode, please share!

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It's Just Rocket Science
Audio file

Sirisha Bandla 00:05
I remember just sleeping on the roof looking up at the stars and wondering what it's like to explore what's up there.

JaciLynn Poteet 00:11
Anytime I have a big, exciting opportunity is, except that I'm scared and go for it anyway.

DaiJah Metoyer 00:21
Welcome to The Air Up There, a podcast about the wide world of aerospace. In this episode, we're going to talk about some out of this world career opportunities. My name is DaiJah Metoyer. I'm 23 years old, and I have a bachelor's degree in Fine Arts. If you would have told me at 18 that I would land a job with the FAA and end up hosting an aerospace podcast. I wouldn't have believed you. But here's a thing that I've learned, sometimes you don't take the exact expected career path. And that's okay. If you're open to exploring different things, jump in and you may just find your passion and a career you truly love. In this episode, we'll hear from Virgin Galactic's Sirisha Bandla, who flew on the Unity 22 sub orbital flight and JaciLynn Poteet, a 23-year-old FAA Commercial Space Transportation Safety Inspector and rocket scientist. Both women are from small towns found their inspiration and overcame obstacles to launch their own unique journey to achieve their dreams. Sirisha Bandla personal and professional journey led her to an incredible, inspiring moment on July 11 2021. When the Unity 22 rocket motor lit and she with the Virgin Galactic team launched into space, (3-2-1 release, release release. Fire, Fire! Welcome to …) Let's listen as our aviation and space education analyst Iyana Clemente finds out what sparks to reach Sirisha's curiosity.

Iyana Clemente 02:03
Hello, Sirisha! Welcome to The Air Up There podcast. I'm gonna jump right in, what was it like growing up in Andhra Pradesh? And then coming to the U.S.? And how did your experiences help you to get to where you are now?

Sirisha Bandla 02:17
Yeah, so I was born in India and moved at a young age to the U.S.. I've held on to that culture, it connects me to my family, it connects me to the country. And that kind of diversity of thought and perspective has always helped me look at all of the opportunities. It's given me a channel to go back and have a support group with my family. But it's always good to reflect back on where you consider home is.

Iyana Clemente 02:42
Right? I love that you said diversity of thought I really like that term.

Sirisha Bandla 02:47
I remember my earliest memory of looking up at the stars. It was in India, and it was during some of the power outages that happen quite often in the area that I grew up in. And when the power is out, the stars look so incredibly brilliant and bright. I remember just sleeping on the roof with my cousins and my sister and just looking up at the stars and wondering what it's like to explore. What's up there? And I think that really just started my curiosity.

Iyana Clemente 03:17
So it's like the stars lit your fire. That's really cool. Yeah, definitely.

Sirisha Bandla 03:20
Being on a rocket powered space plane was absolutely incredible. Yeah. The rocket motor lit. And seeing the sky change from blue to every, you know, shade in between two black was something I actually remember quite vividly. Yeah, I just have to say every portion of that flight was absolutely inspiring to me.

Iyana Clemente 03:43
Wow. My next question was, what did being in space feel like? Like, is there any anything else that you recall? Or like specifically, remember, that was just like mind blowing?

Sirisha Bandla 03:53
You know, honestly, I was surprised — and I was told this ahead of time — but still, when you undergo it, and you feel it, it's completely different. I was surprised how silent it was. And, you know, floating … because we're in the microgravity environment, with your crewmates who you've trained up until this point with looking out of that view, all of that just came together to create just this very incredible experience. And I say this, quite often, I cannot wait to send more and more people up to space, especially those with different backgrounds, different skill sets. It's incredibly important to have that diversity of thought have people from different communities that come with different perspectives, different ideas, provide different structures that will eventually make this industry that are more innovative safer.

Iyana Clemente 04:45
Much of the work that we're doing at the FAA involves reaching young people from underserved and underrepresented communities to educate them on aerospace careers. So how important would you say that is and why?

Sirisha Bandla 04:58
I think it's just important to provide those equal opportunities to communities that aren't represented in the aerospace industry, it's not like the talent does not exist there. It's just they do not have those opportunities to realize that talent and turn it into a career if they want. And I think those opportunities are incredibly important to make sure that they understand that there is a place in this industry for them, and that they have the opportunity to go chase that.

Iyana Clemente 05:25
So why do you think it's important for there to be more women, or people of color in the aerospace industry?

Sirisha Bandla 05:31
It's those differing viewpoints at the core of it, the industry to be able to have more women and have more people of color, have to create one the opportunities for them to be a part of the industry, but also creating an environment where they thrive and are able to be successful. It's interesting, because I looked at the number of people who have gone to space and less than 100 are women. And that that needs to change for sure. Absolutely. So commercial space, I think you're going to see the more and more people that go up, the face of space is really going to be changing. The representation is also just a huge thing. The more people of color, the more women we have in this industry, honestly, just seeing someone in a role can inspire someone to go look at whether that career is for them. I think it's hard to like grasp the scope of what aerospace does for our everyday lives in terms of transportation of people, transportation of cargo, if you go into space, communications, GPS, the technologies that it provides just for our daily lives is incredible. And I think that scope is not yet fully understood. For me, looking at the stars, I even like watching airplanes, like I know a lot of people, maybe it's just me, but go to places where they just can watch airplanes take off and land. Something about that is just keeps us thinking about curiosity. You know, what's out there, like driving our knowledge, wanting to explore what is considered traditional is, I think going to be completely different. And I think it already is, but to be honest, there isn't one way to do anything. And especially when you look at opportunities. When one door closes, another opens, you know, I was not able to go the traditional route to go to space. But through commercial space, I was able to realize that dream. It's hard when you have a roadblock to think about perhaps there's other ways around it than just trying to climb over. Understanding that it's much easier said than done. Don't let one roadblock be the thing that keeps you from your path to your dream. Look at other pathways look at ways to go around it. You never know might find another dream that's equally worth pursuing or find ways to achieve that original dream.

DaiJah Metoyer 08:03
Next we'll hear from JaciLynn Poteet. She began her career with our Commercial Space Transportation Office one year ago, thinking that she will pursue a career in the construction industry, Jac developed a late interest in aerospace after taking advantage of an opportunity to attend an Embry Riddle aerospace summer camp. Listen, as she tells our intern, Jennifer Zhao, about her unconventional path and the fear she's conquered.

Jennifer Zhao 08:31
You said that you got interested in aerospace when you're 16. So what advice would you have for any young people that want to get into aerospace?

JaciLynn Poteet 08:39
I guess the first item is you don't have to have your whole life planned out when you're in high school. I certainly didn't. And even going into college, there were periods where I thought, oh, wow, why did I do this? Is that actually what I want to do? But yeah, just not putting too much pressure on yourself to actually figure out exactly where you want to be in 30 years. And also explore things if you have the opportunity to do things like summer camps, or if you really enjoy watching launches, you know, on the live streams, anything like that, find the passion and foster it. I didn't actually have an interest in the field until about high school. I kind of knew that I wanted to do something STEM. I didn't actually have any kind of interest in aerospace until I attended a summer camp at Embry Riddle. While I was there, there were some really incredible professors that gave lectures. After sitting through these lectures and seeing what all the aerospace field had to offer and how cool things like orbital mechanics were that really solidified for me that that was what I wanted to go into. There was one professor in particular that was amazing. I thought she was phenomenal. I thought she was super cool. Just seeing how impassioned she was about what she was doing really made me think I want to be like her — I want to do it.

Jennifer Zhao 10:01
And what hasn't been the biggest challenge that you've encountered thus far?

JaciLynn Poteet 10:06
The biggest challenge has been throughout college, I spent a lot of time focusing on experience I didn't have compared to my peers. I lacked internship experience and things like that. And that really intimidated me, coming into the field. I felt like I maybe had to fight a little bit harder for a place.

Jennifer Zhao 10:25
You're one of the only women in your team. So do you have any advice for young women that are working in male-dominated fields right now?

JaciLynn Poteet 10:30
Kind of the same advice as the last one is, is you've got to stick with it. Even if it doesn't always feel like it, you've got a place there, you've worked just as hard as everyone else to get there. It's hard to keep that in mind sometimes. But there's certainly a place for everybody in aerospace. So, I grew up in in a very small town, three-digit population, it was really, really intimidating to leave the comfort of that small town and move away, go to college, get a degree. It took a lot of hard work, I haven't necessarily overcome all the fears. But sometimes you just have to have to work when you're afraid. And you don't know how things are going to end up. And that has been what I work towards anytime I have a big, exciting opportunity is except that I'm scared and go for it anyway. I'm only 23. It feels sometimes like I'm too young to be doing some of the things here that I have the opportunity and the privilege to do. I'm here I'm prepared. My management is placing the trust in me to complete these items. And they wouldn't do that, I don't think I would be here, if I wasn't capable. Even if I'm scared. I know that I have the ability to do this. And I'm scared because it's new, not because I can't do it.

DaiJah Metoyer 11:53
The aerospace community will become more innovative and safer. When we create an environment that attracts talent and helps people with different viewpoints thrive and be successful. It's a really cool industry that touches all of our lives. We may not realize it, but commercial space makes a real impact on us and our planet. Well, that's our podcast for today. Remember, there's a place for you in aerospace to if your career path leads you there. The Air Up There is a podcast from the Federal Aviation Administration. If you liked today's episode, remember to subscribe and share with someone else. You could find the FAA on social media. We're @FAA on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn and @FAANews on Twitter and YouTube. Thanks for listening!