Meet Eagle Scout Raja Chari, one of NASA’s newest astronauts

By now it’s well documented that Eagle Scouts make great astronauts. But does that trend continue today?

NASA on Wednesday announced its 2017 astronaut class, 12 men and women from a record 18,000 applicants. The new class includes some of the most qualified, brave, intelligent and patriotic people in the country.

It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that one is an Eagle Scout. Raja Chari joins a long list of astronaut Eagle Scouts that includes NASA legends like Neil Armstrong and James Lovell.

Chari is an Iowa native who graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1999 with bachelor’s degrees in astronautical engineering and engineering science. He later earned a master’s degree in aeronautics and astronautics from MIT and also graduated from the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School.

Despite the impressive résumé, Chari calls his time in Scouting one of the most important factors in shaping who he is today.

Chari earned Scouting’s highest honor on Sept. 30, 1992, in Cedar Falls, Iowa. I talked with him by phone this week.

‘A huge part of my youth’

“Scouting was a huge part of my youth,” he says. “I learned skill sets that have served me both personally and professionally. I can think specifically to a time when I was doing survival training in the Air Force, and, to me, it was just like a cool camping trip because I got to apply some of the practices I learned in the Scouts. It really prepared me for my career.”

To be fair, Chari has accomplished plenty on his own, too. Currently, he’s a commander of the 461st Flight Test Squadron and the director of the F-35 Integrated Test Force at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

He’s accumulated more than 2,000 hours of flight time in F-35, F-15, F-16, and F-18 combat missions in ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom’ and other deployments.

Chari 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, among other citations.

And now he’s one of only 350 astronauts since the original Mercury 7 in 1959.

Watch this space

Chari and the other 11 astronauts will spend the next two years training at Johnson Space Center in Houston, focusing on everything from spacewalks to the International Space Station to robotics. After training, Chari and the other astronauts could be assigned to a variety of missions, including research on the International Space Station, manned missions to Mars or even departing for deep space missions on NASA’s new Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System rocket.

“I know whatever comes next will be incredible and life-changing,” he says. “I’m just excited and thankful to be a part of it.”

Click here to read more about Chari and the rest of the 2017 astronauts.