Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month – Raja Chari, NASA Astronaut

Raja Chari, whose considerable flight experience so far has included a journey into space, was born in Milwaukee in 1977 to Sreenivas V. “Shari” Chari and Peggy Egbert. “Shari” Chari, an engineer, had been born in the city of Hyderabad in India in 1942. He and Peggy Egbert met in Milwaukee while he was a student at the University of Wisconsin in that city and she was a nurse at a local hospital.  

Raja Chari grew up in Cedar Falls, Iowa. In a 2017 interview with the Indian news portal Rediff.com, Chari’s mother discussed his early interest in flying. “When he was about 9 or 10 he took some drapery hooks I wasn’t using and bent them into different shapes,” she recounted. “He would take them out to sell to the kids in the neighborhood telling them they were different types of planes. The other kids always bought them and then they’d all play together.”

Chari graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in 1999 with a bachelor’s degree, with majors in both astronautical engineering and engineering science and a minor in mathematics. He then attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, graduating in 2001 with a master’s degree in aeronautical and astronautical engineering.  

Chari’s subsequent education included additional pilot training at both Vance Air Force Base (AFB) in Oklahoma and Seymour Johnson AFB in North Carolina. In addition, he attended the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School at Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland; and the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. (Chari currently holds the rank of colonel in the U.S. Air Force.)

While serving as the commanding officer for the 461st Flight Test Squadron at Edwards AFB in California in 2017, Chari was selected as an astronaut candidate in NASA Astronaut Group 22.

He went on to successfully complete two years of training for that new role.

In 2020, Chari was one of 18 astronauts selected for the first team of the Artemis program. The leading goal of this NASA-led spaceflight program is to prepare participating astronauts to become the first humans to visit the Moon since the three crew members of the Apollo 17 mission in 1972.  

At around the same time he joined the Artemis program, Chari became the first astronaut from NASA Group 22 to be selected for a space mission. This mission was SpaceX Crew-3, which marked the fourth operational flight of a Crew Dragon spacecraft. Chari was named commander for the mission, making him the first rookie NASA astronaut since 1973 to be given such an assignment for a flight into space.

Chari and his three-member crew blasted off to the International Space Station (ISS) from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on November 11, 2021. They departed ISS on May 5, 2022, with splashdown taking place the next day in the Gulf of Mexico. The offshore supply ship Shannon successfully recovered the astronauts and their spacecraft. As the result of this mission, Chari has logged a total of 176 days, two hours, and 39 minutes in space to date.

Photo Credit: Public Domain

For more information on Raja Chari, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raja_Chari

Additional information on SpaceX Crew-3 is available at https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-esa-astronauts-safely-return-to-earth

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