An Air Force Lt. Col. is among a select few hand chosen to propel NASA into the future.
Lt. Col. Raja Chari of Cedar Falls, Iowa, was named as one of 12 new astronauts selected from its biggest pool of applicants in history. The pool of men and women could one day fly aboard the nation’s next generation of spacecraft.
Chari, director of the F-35 Integrated Test Force at Edwards Air Force Base in California, joins doctors, scientists, engineers, pilots and military officers from Anchorage to Miami and points in between. ABC 13 News reports astronauts from the class of ’17 have worked in submarines, emergency rooms, university lecture halls, jet cockpits and battleships. They range in age from 29 to 42, and they typically have led the pack.
Vice President Mike Pence welcomed the group during a televised ceremony at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. ABC 13 News reports he offered President Donald Trump’s congratulations and noted that the president is “firmly committed to NASA’s noble mission, leading America in space.”
According to ABC 13 News, more than 18,300 entered into the brief application period 1.5 years ago. That’s more than double the previous record of 8,000 set in 1978, when the space shuttles were preparing to launch.
The 12 new astronauts join 44 astronauts already in the space program.
U.S. astronauts have not launched from home soil since 2011, when the space shuttles were retired, thus the low head count. Americans have been hitching rides aboard Russian spacecraft in the meantime, but that could change next year.
This is NASA’s 22nd group of astronauts. The first group, the original Mercury 7 astronauts, was chosen in 1959.
Altogether, 350 Americans have now been selected to become astronauts. Requirements include U.S. citizenship; degrees in science, technology, engineering or math; and at least three years of experience or 1,000 hours of piloting jets, according to ABC News 13.
America’s newest class of astronauts includes:
— Air Force Lt. Col. Raja Chari of Cedar Falls, Iowa, director of the F-35 Integrated Test Force at Edwards Air Force Base in California.
— Navy Lt. Kayla Barron of Richland, Washington, a submarine-warfare officer and nuclear engineer who was among the first class of women commissioned into the submarine service and now works at the U.S. Naval Academy.
— Zena Cardman of Williamsburg, Virginia, a graduate research fellow at the National Science Foundation with a specialty in microorganisms in subsurface environments such as caves.
— Navy Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Dominick of Wheat Ridge, Colorado, department head for Strike Fighter Squadron 115.
— Bob Hines of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, a NASA research pilot at Johnson Space Center.
— Warren “Woody” Hoburg of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, assistant professor of aeronautics and astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
— Dr. Jonny Kim of Los Angeles, a Navy lieutenant who trained as a SEAL and is completing his residency in emergency medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
— Robb Kulin of Anchorage, Alaska, who leads the launch chief engineering group for SpaceX at Hawthorne, California.
— Marine Maj. Jasmin Moghbeli of Baldwin, New York, who tests H-1 helicopters and serves as a quality assurance and avionics officer for Marine Operational Test Evaluation Squadron 1 in Yuma, Arizona.
— Loral O’Hara of Sugar Land, Texas, a research engineer at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts.
— Dr. Francisco “Frank” Rubio of Miami, an Army major who is serving as a surgeon in Fort Carson, Colorado.
— Jessica Watkins of Lafayette, Colorado, a postdoctoral fellow at California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California.
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