Indian-American US Air Force colonel, Raja Jan Vurputoor Chari, Friday was amongst the 11 new NASA graduates who have successfully completed their over two years’ of basic astronaut training and are all set to be a part of the space agency’s ambitious future missions to the International Space Station, Moon and Mars.
The 11 astronauts were selected among 18,000 applicants after NASA announced its Artemis program in 2017. With the Artemis program, NASA aims to land the first woman and next man on the Moon by 2024 and then send astronauts further to Mars by mid-2030s.
Chari who graduated from the US Air Force Academy with bachelor’s degrees in astronautical engineering and engineering science. He earned his master’s degree in aeronautics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and graduated from the US Naval Test Pilot School in Patuxent River, Maryland.
He had earlier also 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.
— Raja Chari (@Astro_Raja) January 11, 2020
Chari said he was inspired by his father Srinivas Chari, who came to the US at a young age from Hyderabad, for an engineering degree, with the goal of getting a higher education and making a successful career. “My father came to the country with the goal of getting an education and realising the importance of that and that directly translated to how I was brought up,” Chari told news agency PTI in an interview.
“There was a focus throughout my childhood on education and that being the thing, you really needed to do well to succeed,” he said.
The 41-year-old was selected by NASA to join the 2017 Astronaut Candidate Class. He reported for duty in August 2017 and having completed the initial astronaut candidate training is now eligible for a mission assignment.
“The new graduates may be assigned to missions destined for the International Space Station, the Moon and ultimately, Mars. With a goal of sustainable lunar exploration later this decade, NASA will send the first woman and next man to the surface on the Moon by 2024,” the space agency said in a release.
“These individuals represent the best of America, and what an incredible time for them to join our astronaut corps,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston where the graduation ceremony took place.
The astronauts were also handed a silver pin, a tradition dating back to the Mercury 7 astronauts, who were selected in 1959.
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