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Cedar Falls astronaut talks about goals of new Moon mission, Mars and more

Cedar Falls, Iowa – NASA plans to have a permanent, manned lunar base by 2024 and the Iowan on the team of astronauts who will make the journey calls the Moon a stepping stone to Mars and beyond. Cedar Falls native Raja Chari says we have to continue to explore and expand our species beyond this planet, while also learning to make the Earth even more hospitable.

The latest Moon program is called Artemis (ART-ah-mus), named for the twin sister of Apollo in Greek mythology. Eighteen astronauts are on the team, nine men and nine women. Chari says his concern is -not- whether he makes it to the Moon himself, but instead whether he contributes to keeping the progress of the Artemis project moving forward.

As a boy, Chari says his parents instilled in him the belief that a good education is what you need to succeed, and he earned degrees in aeronautics and astronautics from the U.S. Air Force Academy and MIT. Chari’s mother was a nurse and a teacher, while his father came to the U.S. from India to get his master’s degree and spent his entire career at John Deere in Waterloo. While Chari will likely be among the first people since 1972 to set foot on the Moon, he would also be the first-ever person of Indian descent to reach that pinnacle.

Chari’s first mission is scheduled for lift-off next fall. He’ll be part of a crew that flies to the International Space Station, where he’ll be living for six months. Chari and his wife, Holly – a Cedar Falls native – have three children, ages six, nine and 11. Chari says he’s continuing to have conversations with his kids about his fantastic – and dangerous – career. A former Air Force test pilot who flew combat missions over Iraq, the 41-year-old says he teaches his little ones about risks versus rewards.

Only seven Iowans have been astronauts, including Laurel Clark of Ames, who died in the Space Shuttle Columbia tragedy of 2003. The other Iowans who’ve been in space include five shuttle astronauts: Peggy Whitson of Mount Ayr, Jim Kelly of Burlington, George Nelson of Charles City, Loren Shriver of Jefferson, and David Hilmers of Clinton. Iowa’s first astronaut was Walter Cunningham of Creston who flew aboard Apollo 7.

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