Indian American astronaut Raja Chari reaches Space Station

Indian American astronaut Raja Chari (middle) after SpaceX Crew-3’s arrival at space station. (Photo Credit: NASA TV)

Son of Indian immigrants, Chari commands mission on his very first space flight

A SpaceX Crew-3 Dragon capsule commanded by Indian American astronaut Raja Chari has docked to the International Space Station, kicking off the four astronauts’ six-month stay at the orbital outpost.

Spaceship Endurance docked to the Space Station, orbiting more than 200 miles above Earth, at 6:32 p.m. EST Thursday, Nov. 11, less than 24 hours after launching from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida atop a Falcon 9 rocket, according to NASA after several delays.

The flight was initially postponed from Oct. 31 first for weather, then a “minor medical issue” affecting one of the crew. NASA did not say who it was but said it was not Covid-related.

Read: Indian American astronaut Raja Chari all set for first space flight (October 28, 2021)

NASA astronauts Chari, Tom Marshburn, Kayla Barron, and ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Matthias Maurer opened the hatch of their Crew Dragon spacecraft Endurance at 8:25 p.m. and participated in a welcome ceremony with their new Expedition 66 crewmates at 9 p.m.

Chari, a US Air Force colonel, who joined NASA’s astronaut corps in 2017 as one of its newest inductees, and this journey marks his first flight to space.

He has a master’s degree in aeronautics and astronautics from MIT and graduated from the US Naval Test Pilot School, which has a long history of providing a pipeline to the astronaut corps.

Chari has accumulated more than 2,500 hours of flight time in his career. Born in Milwaukee, he grew up in Cedar Falls, Iowa. His father Sreenivas V. Chari immigrated from Hyderabad.

Chari and Barron have also both been selected for NASA’s corps of Artemis astronauts, who could fly on future missions to the Moon.

The newest crew to the microgravity laboratory is the agency’s third crew rotation mission with SpaceX and will remain on board until April 2022 as a part of Expedition 66.

This mission, called Crew-3, is the fourth mission in a partnership between Elon Musk’s SpaceX and NASA to make routine trips to the ISS in order to keep the 21-year-old space station adequately staffed.

Since US Space Shuttle program retired in 2011, Russia has been the only country providing ISS transportation.

Read: Indian American astronaut Raja Chari in NASA Moon mission (December 10, 2020)

The quartet will spend six months on the orbital outpost and conduct research to help inform future deep space exploration and benefit life on Earth.

Scientific highlights of the mission include an experiment to grow plants in space without soil or other growth media, and another to build optical fibers in microgravity, which prior research has suggested will be superior in quality to those made on Earth.

The Crew-3 astronauts will also conduct spacewalks to complete an upgrade of the station’s solar panels and will be present for two tourism missions, including Japanese visitors aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft at the end of the year and the Space-X Axiom crew, set for launch in February 2022.

As a global endeavor, 242 people from 19 countries have visited the unique microgravity laboratory that has over two decades hosted more than 3,000 research and educational investigations from researchers in 108 countries and areas.

Read: SpaceX mission led by Indian-origin astronaut reaches ISS (November 12, 2021)

India-born Kalpana Chawla was one of the seven crew members who perished in the space shuttle Columbia disaster during re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere in 2003. Indian American astronaut Sunita Williams made two trips to the space station.

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