AF pilot selected for NASA astronaut training Published June 7, 2017 412th Test Wing Public Affairs EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (AFNS) -- Lt. Col. Raja Chari has been selected by NASA to join the 2017 Astronaut Candidate Class. Chari relinquishes command of the 461st Flight Test Squadron June 9 where he oversaw developmental testing of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter for the past couple of years. Simultaneously, he served as director of the F-35 Integrated Test Force. Chari will leave Edwards AFB as a colonel select. He has flown more than 2,000 flight hours in the F-35 Lightning II, F-15 Strike Eagle, F-16 Fighting Falcon, and F-18 Hornet including F-15E combat missions in Operation Iraqi Freedom and deployments in support of the Korean peninsula. The Iowa native graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1999 with a bachelor’s degrees in astronautical engineering and engineering science. He continued on to earn a master’s degree in aeronautics and astronautics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and graduated from the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School. Chari is one of 12 new astronauts introduced on Wednesday who will train for missions into Earth’s orbit and into deep space. The seven men and five women comprise the 22nd class of American spaceflight trainees since 1959. According to a NASA release, the group is the largest NASA has selected in almost two decades. The 12 new candidates include six military officers, three scientists, two medical doctors, a lead engineer at SpaceX and a NASA research pilot. Chari will report for duty in August to begin two years of training as an astronaut candidate. Upon completion, he will be assigned technical duties in the Astronaut Office while he awaits a flight assignment, according to NASA.