Indo-American Astro to lead mission to Space Station before heading to Moon

Astronaut Raja Chari testing for space suits as part of Artemis training. (Twitter/Astro_Raja)
Days after announcing his name for the ambitious Artemis missions to the Moon, NASA on Tuesday selected Indian-American astronaut Raja Chari to lead the next SpaceX Crew Mission to the International Space Station. Chari, who will be the commander of the mission will be joined by Tom Marshburn as pilot and European Space Agency astronaut Matthias Maurer as the mission specialist.

The SpaceX Crew-3 mission will be launched to the ISS likely in September 2021 for a six-month stay in outer space. Nasa in a statement said that a fourth crew member will be added at a later date. "Excited and honored to be training with Matthias Maurer and Tom Marshburn in prep for a trip to the Space Station," Chari tweeted following the announcement.

"This will be the third crew rotation mission of SpaceX’s human space transportation system and its fourth flight with astronauts, including the Demo-2 test flight, to the space station through NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The goal of the program is to provide safe, reliable, and cost-effective crew access to the space station and low-Earth orbit," Nasa added.

The SpaceX Crew-3 team. (Nasa)

Nasa has a six-mission contract with SpaceX, which is prepping for missions to Mars in near future with the recent test of the Starship launch.

From combat flying in Iraq to launching in Space: Meet Astronaut Raja Chari

Raja Chari, who is part of the bold Artemis missions, which is likely to firmly place the US back on the Moon, will be on his maiden space flight before the Moon missions begin. An Indian-American, Chari is a US Air Force Colonel and test pilot who has logged over 2,000 hours of flying. He became a Nasa astronaut in 2017.

The Iowa native graduated from the US Air Force Academy in 1999 with a bachelor’s degree in Astronautical Engineering and Engineering Science before heading to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for a master’s degree in Aeronautics and Astronautics. He is also a graduate of the US Naval Test Pilot School.

This will be maiden space flight for Astronaut Raja Chari. (Twitter/Astro_Raja)

Chari was leading the 461st Flight Test Squadron and was the Director of the F-35 Integrated Test Force when he was approached by Nasa. A combat fighter pilot, he has flown the F-35, F-15, F-16, and F-18 aircraft including F-15E combat missions in Operation Iraqi Freedom and deployments in support of the Korean peninsula. A decorated Air Force officer, he 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.

A rich legacy of Indian-American astronauts

Chari will be part of a rich legacy of Indian American astronauts who have contributed in furthering the cause of science and discovery. Before him, Astronaut Sunita Williams and Kalpana Chawala have been to the ISS as part of the Nasa shuttle missions. Williams has spent 322 days in space on two missions and ranks second on the all-time US endurance list for females. With 50 hours and 40 minutes, she is second on the list of total cumulative spacewalk time by a female astronaut. She is currently training for the first post-certification mission of Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft – the second crewed flight for that vehicle – and her third long-duration mission aboard the International Space Station.

From Left: Wing Commander Rakesh Sharma, Astronaut Kalpana Chawla, Astronaut Sunita Williams.

Meanwhile, Kalpana Chawala, who was born in Karnal, Haryana was part of the STS-87 (1997) and STS-107 (2003) mission and logged 30 days, 14 hours, 54 minutes in space. She, unfortunately, lost her life in the devastating Columbia tragedy when the Space Shuttle exploded during reentry in 2003 killing all onboard.

Apart from Chawla, Wing Commander Rakesh Sharma was the first Indian in Space, who flew aboard Soyuz T-11 on April 3 1984 with the Soviet Interkosmos programme. A new generation of Indian cosmonauts is undergoing training in Russia to be part of India's first manned mission to space: Gaganyaan.

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