HOUSTON: Raja Chari, a 39-year-old Indian- American Lieutenant Colonel with the US Air Force, is among 12 astronaut candidates selected from a record 18,000 applicants by NASA for missions into Earth orbit and deep space.
The seven men and five women comprise the 22nd class of American spaceflight trainees since 1959. The group, the largest in almost two decades selected by NASA, will report for a two-year training in August, the space agency announced.
Raja "Grinder" Chari is a commander of the 461st Flight Test Squadron and the director of the F-35 Integrated Test Force at Edwards Air Force Base in California.
Hailing from Waterloo, Iowa, he earned a Master's degree in aeronautics and astronautics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and graduated from the US Naval Test Pilot School.
The group was selected from a record 18,300 applicants, more than NASA has ever had during an open astronaut call.
To get picked, people had to meet some physical requirements as well as certain education and experience criteria such as having a bachelor's degree in a STEM field or accumulating up to 1,000 hours of piloting jets.
But it's clear that this new class greatly surpasses all the minimum skills that NASA requires.
After the two-year training, the new astronaut candidates could be assigned to missions performing research on the International Space Station (ISS), launching from American soil on spacecraft built by commercial companies, and flying on deep space missions on NASA's new Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System rocket.
Vice President Mike Pence joined NASA leaders, including acting administrator Robert Lightfoot and director of flight operations Brian Kelly here to announce the new astronaut candidates, or "ascans".
The event was set 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 might fly in the coming years on missions beyond low Earth orbit.
Pence said President Donald Trump is "firmly committed" to NASA's mission in space and that "America will lead the way in space once again".
NASA would continue to have the resources it needs to "make history", even though the president's budget request cuts funding and cancels certain programs at the agency, he said, adding that NASA would continue to collaborate with the commercial space industry in the future.
"The courage of these men and women, and all the astronauts who have gone before, inspires me to this very day," Pence said.
The 12 new candidates include six military officers, three scientists, two medical doctors, a lead engineer at SpaceX and a NASA research pilot.
Chari's father Srinivas Chari was an engineer and he immigrated to the US after his engineering from Osmania University in Hyderabad.
Among other candidates include Lt Kayla "Sax" Barron, 29, Zena Cardman, 29, Lt Commander Matthew Dominick, 35, Bob Hines, 42, Warren "Woody" Hoburg, 31, Jonny Kim, 33, Robb Kulin, 33, Major Jasmin Moghbeli, 33, Loral O'Hara, 34, Francisco Rubio, 41 and Jessica Watkins, 28.