NASA has selected 18 astronauts to be part of the ambitious manned mission to Moon and beyond. One of the astronauts selected for the mission is Indian-American Raja Jon Vurputoor Chari. The 18 astronauts will train for the Artemis moon-landing programme that will witness the first woman and the next man stepping on the Moon in 2024. The programme aims to establish a sustainable human lunar presence by the end of the decade.
Raja Chari is a graduate of the US Air Force Academy, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and US Naval Test Pilot School. The 43-year-old astronaut is the only Indian-American on the list. Half of the team comprises women. Christina Koch and Jessica Meir - who performed the world's first all-female spacewalk last year will also be part of the team.
NASA selected Chari to join the 2017 Astronaut Candidate Class. Having reported for duty in August 2017, Chari completed the initial astronaut candidate training and is now eligible for mission assignment. At the time of joining, Chari was the Commander of the 461st Flight Test Squadron and the Director of the F-35 Integrated Test Force. He is a graduate from Columbus High School in Waterloo, Iowa. Chari pursued his bachelor's degree in Astronautical Engineering from the US Air Force Academy in Colorado and a master's degree in Aeronautics and Astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He also graduated from the US Naval Test Pilot School in Patuxent River, Maryland and from US Army Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
Chari has been 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 distinguished graduate from the US Air Force Academy, Undergraduate Pilot Training, and the F-15E Formal Training Unit.
Vice President Mike Pence said at NASA's Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, "My fellow Americans, I give you the heroes of the future who will carry us back to the Moon and beyond: the Artemis Generation". Pence said that most of the astronauts are in their 30s and 40s. The oldest is 55 years and the youngest 32 years.
NASA is scheduled to announce the flight assignments later. International partner astronauts will also join the group.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said, "We are incredibly grateful for the president and vice president's support of the Artemis program, as well as the bipartisan support for all of NASA's science, aeronautics research, technology development, and human exploration goals".
The Artemis missions would begin work next year along with NASA's commercial partners. The astronauts would help the agency prepare for the mission. Developing human landing systems, assisting in the development of training, defining hardware requirements, and consulting on technical development are some of the areas that will be undertaken for work.
Chief Astronaut Pat Forrester said, "There is so much exciting work ahead of us as we return to the moon, and it will take the entire astronaut corps to make that happen. Walking on the lunar surface would be a dream come true for any one of us, and any part we can play in making that happen is an honour."