While NASA may sound like a distant dream for fighter pilots, Raja Chari, Indian American fighter pilot has been selected as Astronaut Candidate for NASA’s 2017 Astronaut Candidate Class. He will be reporting for duty in August and will be assigned missions ranging from exploring deep space and low earth orbit. An Iowa native, Chari, 39 has served in the US Air Force and has clocked in more than 2,000 hours. The newly minted astronaut had also participated in the Operation Iraqi Freedom mission.
With his selection, Chari, Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Air Force, became the third person of Indian origin to join the illustrious space agency, after Sunita Williams and Kalpana Chawla. He is among the 12 candidates announced by NASA for their astronaut program for 2017 recently.
Chari, will be spending the next two years training at Johnson Space Centre in Houston, Texas. After finishing the training, the astronauts will be assigned various missions – deep space missions beyond low earth orbit, work on International Space Station or going beyond the moon in NASA’s Orion spacecraft.
The new astronaut candidate of class 2017 has a Bachelor’s degree in Astronautical Engineering from the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado and a Master’s degree in Aeronautics and Astronautics from MIT.
The group of 12 candidates was selected from a record 18,300 applicants, more than NASA has ever received during an open astronaut call. This is pegged to be the largest group selected by NASA in the last two decades. To make it to the astronaut program, candidates have to be meet stringent physical requirements and education and experience criteria such as having a bachelor’s degree in a STEM field or logging up to 1,000 hours of piloting jets.
The announcement was made by Vice President Mike Pence who joined NASA leaders and acting administrator Robert Lightfoot and director of flight operations Brian Kelly in congratulating the class of 2017. According to Pence, President Donald Trump is firmly committed to NASA’s mission and wants America to lead in the space race again. Earlier this year, after the signing of the first NASA Authorization Act in seven years, the President Trump renewed the national commitment to “NASA’s mission of exploration and discovery”. Called ascans by Pence, the seven men and five women comprise the 22nd class of American spaceflight trainees since 1959.
The NASA 2017 astronaut candidates event was held inside the Johnson Space Center’s Space Vehicle Mockup Facility in front of a full-scale engineering model of NASA’s Orion spacecraft, which the new astronauts are expected to fly in the coming years on missions beyond low Earth orbit.
Trmp re-launches National Space Council, to establish American space dominance
During his address, Pence revealed only 338 Americans have ever held the title of American astronaut. Reinforcing Trump’s vision in establishing American supremacy in space yet again, Pence announced the relaunch of National Space Council which will be chaired by him. “America needs a National Space Council once again. Twice before in our nation’s history, America has had a federal body charged with advising the President on a national policy and strategy for space,” he said, in closing.
The first Space Council helped marshal America’s “energies and skills” and it was under the Council’s watch that America put a man in outer space and put a man on the moon with less than a decade between them, Pence said during the address at the Johnson Space Center.