Only days after being named as one of the initial 18 members of the “Artemis Team”—the first group of men and women specifically assigned to prepare for missions to the Moon since Apollo 17 in December 1972—Raja Chari is also set to become the first member of NASA’s 2017 astronaut class to draw a flight assignment. And this potential future lunar visitor also joins a small and pretty exclusive club by becoming one of only six Americans to command a flight on his very first trip into space. Joining Chari for SpaceX’s Crew-3 mission to the International Space Station (ISS) next fall are seasoned NASA veteran Tom Marshburn, European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Matthias Maurer from Germany and an as-yet-unnamed four member.
Forty-three-year-old Chari is married with three children. Born in Milwaukee, Wis., in June 1977, he was raised in Cedar Falls, Iowa, and attended high school in Waterloo. He entered the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., and received a degree in astronautical engineering and engineering science, with a minor in mathematics. Chari then earned a master’s credential in aeronautics and astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), with a specialism in automated orbital rendezvous. He completed Undergraduate Pilot Training at Vance Air Force Base in Enid, Okla., and trained as an F-15E Strike Eagle fighter pilot in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
He later attended the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School and served as a test pilot at Eglin Air Force Base, near Valparaiso, Fla. He became commander of the 461st Flight Test Squadron at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., in 2015, and was selected as an astronaut two years later. Upon completion of Astronaut Candidate (ASCAN) training last January, Chari was assigned to the Vehicle Integration and Test Office (VITO). Last week, he was named to the Artemis Team, with an expectation that he will be one of America’s next generation of lunar explorers.
If Chari is bound to someday voyage to the Moon, he will do so in fine company. When he flies Crew-3 in the commander’s seat next fall, he will become only the sixth American in history to lead a crew on his very first spaceflight. And in so doing, it would not be waxing lyrical to excess to claim that he will indeed stand on the shoulders of the titans of the past.
Jim McDivitt, commander of Gemini IV—America’s first mission to include Extravehicular Activity (EVA)—was the first to achieve this accolade, way back in June 1965. Others included veteran X-15 and shuttle commander Joe Engle and the skipper of the final Skylab crew, Jerry Carr, who died earlier this year. But for Chari as a member of the Artemis Team, a close link cannot fail to be missed with America’s two other first-time commanders: Frank Borman, who led the first crewed voyage to the Moon, and Neil Armstrong, the first in history to set foot upon its dusty surface.
Joining Chari as pilot of Crew-3 will be Dr. Tom Marshburn, who looks set to become the second-oldest American ever to travel into space. Born in Statesville, N.C, in August 1960, he will have passed his 61st birthday by the time he launches on Crew-3 and by the time he returns to Earth in early 2022 he will pip veteran NASA flyer Story Musgrave, leaving only John Glenn—who was 77 when he flew aboard the shuttle on STS-95 in October 1998—as the empirical record-holder.
Marshburn attended high school in Atlanta, Ga., and received his undergraduate degree in physics from Davidson College in 1982, a master’s degree in engineering physics from the University of Virginia in 1984 and a medical doctorate from Wake Forest University in 1989.
He trained initially in emergency medicine and as a flight physician, receiving certification by the American Board of Emergency Medicine in 1992. Marshburn was an emergency doctor in Seattle, Wash., and subsequently worked in emergency rooms in Houston, Texas, and Boston, Mass. He was an attending physician for the emergency medicine residency at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston.
Marshburn joined NASA in 1994 as a flight surgeon in support of the shuttle/Mir program, supporting U.S. astronaut personnel at the Star City training center on the forested outskirts of Moscow. Following several assignments as lead flight surgeon for shuttle and ISS missions, he was selected as an astronaut candidate in May 2004. He served as a mission specialist aboard Endeavour on STS-127 in July 2009, during which he performed three spacewalks in support of the installation and activation of the final component of Japan’s Kibo (“Hope”) lab.
Marshburn flew again to the space station as a member of Expedition 34/35 between December 2012 and May 2013, logging an additional spacewalk and bringing his total EVA time up to 24 hours and 29 minutes. All told, at the end of his second mission, he has spent over 161 days in space. Most recently, Marshburn served as backup to both Drew Morgan and Jessica Meir for their ISS increments, launched in July and September of last year.
Also assigned to Crew-3 is materials scientist Matthias Maurer, who will be making his first spaceflight after being selected by the European Space Agency (ESA) in July 2015.
Born in Sankt Wendell, in Germany’s western Saarland state, the 50-year-old Maurer unsuccessfully applied for admission to ESA’s astronaut corps in 2009 and later worked as a crew support engineer and “eurocom” for the Columbus flight control team at the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) in Cologne, Germany. Earlier this year, he was named as backup for French astronaut Thomas Pesquet on the Crew-2 mission.
Maurer graduated from Gymnasium Wendalinum in his hometown in 1989 and completed compulsory civilian service as an emergency paramedic. He later studied materials science and technology at Saarland University and earned his doctorate in engineering at the RWTH Aachen University in 2004.