NASA’s new astronauts all set to conquer Moon, Mars

NASA welcomed 11 new astronauts to its ranks Friday and the Canadian Space Agency welcomed two new astronauts, the first to graduate since NASA announced its Artemis program. These new graduates could potentially be assigned to missions to the international space station, the Moon, and Mars. The space agency plans on sending the first woman and next man to the lunar surface by 2024, with a goal of exploring Mars targeted for the mid-2030s.

 The new grads expand the ranks of astronauts eligible for missions to space. They have backgrounds ranging from experimental rocket science, special forces service, medicine, and geology. One of the members of NASA's newest astronaut class who graduated on 10th January 2020 might be the next to walk on the moon and perhaps might even be the first to set foot on Mars.

The graduates, nicknamed the Turtles, after a metaphor that Vice President Mike Pence employed when the astronaut class was originally announced in 2017, is NASA's 22nd class of astronauts to graduate from basic training and the first class of astronauts to graduate under NASA's Artemis program, which aims to land the first woman and the next man on the moon by 2024.

The 13 astronauts (11 NASA astronauts and two Canadian Space Agency astronauts) who graduated  joined the active astronauts in NASA's astronaut corps who are eligible to be assigned to fly on the first crewed mission to the moon since 1972. The crew may also have the opportunity to fly to Mars as NASA continues to push space exploration forward.

The astronauts didn't hide their excitement to be part of this ambitious initiative. During a segment of the graduation program in which selected students were able to ask questions, Matt, a student from Wesley Elementary School, asked the astronauts about our future on the moon and how long we're going to stay.

Newly graduated NASA astronaut Matthew Dominick answered, referring to the giant image of the moon that served as a backdrop on stage. 

Dominick said, how can you not see this moon up here all day and not want to walk all over it? We're going to stay, and what that means is after you work hard in school, you're going to join us on the moon and join us on Mars.

Raja Jon Vurputoor Chari, an Indian-American US Air Force colonel, is among 11 new NASA graduates who have successfully completed their over two years of basic astronaut training and are all set to be a part of the space agency’s ambitious future missions to the International Space Station, Moon, and Mars.

The successful astronauts were selected among 18,000 applicants in 2017 after NASA announced its Artemis program.

Mr. Chari, 41, was selected by NASA to join the 2017 Astronaut Candidate Class. He reported for duty in August 2017 and has completed the initial astronaut candidate training is now eligible for a mission assignment.

At a ceremony here on Friday, each new astronaut received a silver pin, a tradition dating back to the Mercury 7 astronauts, who were selected in 1959. The astronauts will receive a gold pin once they complete their first spaceflights.

Astronaut candidate training for the new graduates included instruction, practice, and testing in spacewalking, robotics, International Space Station systems, T-38 jet proficiency, and Russian language.

As astronauts, they will help develop spacecraft, support the teams currently in space and ultimately join the ranks of only about 500 people who have been into space. Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz of Texas were among the speakers at the first-ever public graduation ceremony NASA has held for its astronauts.

Mr. Chari, a US Air Force colonel from Cedar Falls Iowa, graduated from the US Air Force Academy with bachelor’s degrees in astronautical engineering and engineering science.

He earned a master’s degree in aeronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and graduated from the US Naval Test Pilot School in Patuxent River, Maryland.

Mr. Chari served as the commander of the 461st Flight Test Squadron and the director of the F-35 Integrated Test Force at Edwards Air Force Base in California. Inspired by his father Srinivas Chari, who came to the US at a young age from Hyderabad, for an engineering degree, with the goal of getting a higher education and making a successful career. He met his wife and spent his entire career at John Deere in Waterloo.

Mr. Chari said, my father came to the country with the goal of getting an education and realising the importance of that, and that directly translated to how I was brought up. There was a focus throughout my childhood on education and that being the thing, you really needed to do well to succeed.

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