Indian American Raja Chari, a lieutenant colonel in the US Air Force, is among 12 new astronaut candidates selected by NASA who will take part in future deep space missions. After receiving a record-breaking 18,300 applications to join the future of space exploration, the US space agency selected its largest astronaut class since 2000.
Chari, a 39-year-old lieutenant colonel in the US Air Force, hails from the US state of Iowa. He graduated from the US Air Force Academy with bachelor’s degrees in astronautical engineering and engineering science.
He went on to earn a master’s degree in aeronautics and astronautics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and graduated from the US Naval Test Pilot School. Chari has been serving as the commander of the 461st Flight Test Squadron and the director of the F-35 Integrated Test Force at Edwards Air Force Base in California.
“These are 12 men and women whose personal excellence and whose personal courage will carry our nation to even greater heights of discovery,” said US Vice President Mike Pence, who joined NASA leaders who introduced the members of the 2017 astronaut class at Houston.
The other candidates include Kayla Barron, a 29-year-old from Washington serving the US Navy, Zena Cardman, a 29-year-old scientist from Virginia, and 35-year old Matthew Dominick, a lieutenant commander with the US Navy from Colorado.
The astronaut candidates will begin two years of training in August. Then they could be assigned to any of a variety of missions, including performing research on the International Space Station (ISS), launching on spacecraft built by commercial companies and departing for deep space missions on NASA’s new Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System rocket.
“These candidates are an important addition to the NASA family and the nation’s human spaceflight team,” said NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot.
With the addition of these 12 members of the 2017 astronaut candidate class, NASA now has selected 350 astronauts since the original Mercury 7 in 1959.
“We here at NASA are excited to welcome them to the team and look forward to working with them to inspire the next generation of explorers,” said Ellen Ochoa, Director of NASA Johnson Space Centre.