Indian-American among new batch of NASA astronaut candidates could go to Mars in future

A new class of astronauts will graduate basic training on Jan. 10, 2020. They will join the active astronaut corps, beginning careers in exploration that may take them to the International Space Station, on missions to the Moon under the Artemis program, or someday, Mars. The 2017 class includes (top row) Matthew Dominick of NASA, Kayla Barron of NASA, Warren Hoburg of NASA, and Joshua Kutryk of CSA, (middle row) Bob Hines of NASA, Frank Rubio of NASA, Jennifer Sidey-Gibbons of CSA, Jasmin Moghbeli of NASA, and Jessica Watkins of NASA, (bottom row) Raja Chari of NASA, Jonny Kim of NASA, Zena Cardman of NASA, and Loral O’Hara of NASA. Photo: NASA/Bill Stafford

NASA will honor the first class of astronaut candidates to graduate under the Artemis program Friday, Jan. 10, at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

The NASA candidates, including one Indian-American, were chosen from a record-setting pool of more than 18,000 applicants.

One of the 13 graduates is Raja Chari, an Indian-American. All of them have completed more than two years of basic training and will become eligible for spaceflight, including assignments to the International Space Station, Artemis missions to the Moon, and ultimately, missions to Mars, a press release from NASA said. The class includes 11 NASA candidates, as well as two Canadian Space Agency (CSA) candidates, selected in 2017.

Under the Artemis program, NASA will land the first woman and next man on the Moon by 2024, using innovative technologies to explore more of the lunar surface than ever before, the space agency said on its website. Working toward these goals will involve  collaboration with commercial and international partners and establishing sustainable exploration by 2028. Knowledge gained on and around the Moon will be used to take the next giant leap – sending astronauts to Mars.

According to his biography available on NASA’s website, U.S. Air Force Colonel Chari hails from Cedar Falls, Iowa. He graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy with bachelor’s degrees in astronautical engineering and engineering science in 1999.

He went on to earn a master’s degree in aeronautics and astronautics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and graduated from the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School in Patuxent River, Maryland.

Chari served as the commander of the 461st Flight Test Squadron and the director of the F-35 Integrated Test Force at Edwards Air Force Base (AFB) in California. Chari was selected by NASA to join the 2017 Astronaut Candidate Class. He reported for duty August 2017.

Raja Chari, astronaut candidate in the newest graduating class of NASA’s Artemis program. Photo: NASA

Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Chari was raised in Cedar Falls, Iowa and went to Columbus High School in Waterloo, Iowa. He is married to Holly Schaffter Chari, also a Cedar Falls native, and the couple has three children. His mother, Peggy Chari, lives in Cedar Falls, Iowa.

Chari has accumulated more than 2,000 hours of flight time in the F-35, F-15, F-16, and F-18 including F-15E combat missions in Operation Iraqi Freedom and deployments in support of the Korean peninsula.

The Indian-American has received several awards during his career. He was awarded the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Aerial Achievement Medal, the Air Force Commendation Medal, the Air Force Achievement Medal, an Iraq Campaign Medal, a Korean Defense Service Medal and the Nuclear Deterrence Operations Service Medal.  He was named a distinguished graduate from the US Air Force Academy, Undergraduate Pilot Training, and the F-15E Formal Training Unit.

Upon completion Jan. 10, 2020, Chari will be assigned technical duties in the Astronaut Office while he awaits a flight assignment.

The Jan. 10, 2020 ceremony will air live on NASA Television and the agency’s website. The new graduates also will be available for in-person and remote media interviews following the ceremony.




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