US space agency NASA has selected 12 new astronauts, one of them an Indian-American, after screening over 18,300 applicants. Seven of them are men and five women, who will be trained as the 22nd class of American spaceflight trainees, the largest group ever selected since 1959.
All the selected applicants actually cross the minimum eligibility criteria and they excel in their fields, according to NASA. The Indian origin astronaut is Lt. Col. Raja “Grinder” Chari, 39, commander of the 461st Flight Test Squadron and the director of the F-35 Integrated Test Force at Edwards Air Force Base in California.His father Srinivas Chari was an engineering graduate from from Osmania University in Hyderabad before he migrated to US and settled down there.
They will now undergo two years of rigorous training before they are assigned to missions on the International Space Station, on spacecraft built by commercial companies, and flying on deep space missions on Nasa’s new Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System rocket.
US Vice President Mike Pence joined Nasa in Houston, Texas to announce the new astronaut candidates coded as “ascans”.Pence said, “America will lead the way in space once again,” though US President Donald Trump had radically cut funding to NASA recently.
The 12 new Ascans include six military officers, three scientists, two medical doctors, a lead engineer at SpaceX and a Nasa research pilot.
Raja Chari,29, whose father is from India, hails from Iowa and graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1999 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 and graduated from the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School.
Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Chari was raised in Cedar Falls, 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.
At the time of his selection in June 2017, Chari was a Colonel select in the U.S. Air Force, serving as the Commander of the 461st Flight Test Squadron and the Director of the F-35 Integrated Test Force. He 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.
Chari will report for duty in August 2017 to begin two years of training as an Astronaut Candidate. Upon completion, he will be assigned technical duties in the Astronaut Office while he awaits a flight assignment.
He received 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. Also named distinguished graduate from the US Air Force Academy, Undergraduate Pilot Training, and the F-15E Formal Training Unit.
Other astronauts include:
Lt Kayla “Sax” Barron, 29, is a US Navy submarine officer from the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.
Zena Cardman, 29, is a geobiologist from Penn State University specilizing on microorganisms in subsurface environments, ranging from caves to deep sea sediments.
Lt Commander Matthew Dominick, 35, is the head for the US Navy’s Strike Fighter Squadron 115.
Bob Hines, 42, is Nasa research pilot based at Johnson Space Center since 2012. He has served in the US Air Force and Air Force Reserves for 18 years.
Warren “Woody” Hoburg, 31, is assistant professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT from Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, has earned a doctorate in electrical engineering and computer science.
Jonny Kim, 33, is Navy lieutenant and SEAL, on active duty reserve while completing his residency at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Robb Kulin, 33, is a lead of the Launch Chief Engineering group at SpaceX in Hawthorne, California with experience as an ice driller in Antarctica on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and Taylor Glaciers and as a commercial fisherman in Chignik, Alaska.
Major Jasmin Moghbeli, 33, is a quality assurance and avionics officer for the Marine Corps’ Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron 1 in Yuma, Arizona.
Loral O’Hara, 34, is a research engineer at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.
Francisco Rubio, 41, is serving as a surgeon for the 3rd Battalion of the Army’s 10th Special Forces Group.
Jessica Watkins, 28, is a postdoctoral fellow at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), where she collaborates on Nasa’s Mars Science Laboratory for the Curiosity rover. She has worked at Nasa’s Ames Research Center in northern California.