Iowa astronaut candidate excited for training - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Iowa astronaut candidate excited for training

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WATERLOO (KWWL) -

An eastern Iowa native has an elite opportunity to become a NASA astronaut.

Raja Chari is one of a dozen people selected form the largest applicant pool in NASA's history to join the astronaut program.

Chari and his fellow candidates were congratulated by Vice President Mike Pence in Houston, Texas this week.

Chari was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin but raised in Cedar Falls.

He attended high school in Waterloo.

He later graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy, M.I.T., and the United States Naval Test Pilot School.

We caught up with Raja's high school teachers, and they say he was destined for greatness, regardless of what career path he chose.

"There wasn't a particular day that I can't point to, that on that day I wanted to become an astronaut. Several times throughout grade school and high school, if you asked me specifically, 'do you want to become an astronaut?' I would have said yes," Chari said.

Raja Char is a 1995 Columbus High School graduate and father of three. 

Columbus High School teachers, Gary Schnieders and David Will, describe him best.

"I knew Raja was going to go places, but I didn't know he was going to Mars, but hopefully he'll get to the space shuttle and maybe the moon like (Vice President) Pence said," Will said.

"You could tell he was very much into history and had leadership skills, and it was very clear from the start that this young man was going to go places. You could see quite clearly, he was going to be very successful, regardless of where he went or whatever school he went to," Schnieders said.

"He was a leader in the class, and he just excelled in everything he did, or he tried to excel. He played tennis, and he'll probably make a better astronaut than a tennis player, but he gave it everything he got on the tennis court too," Will said.

With all of Raja's accomplishments, he's never forgotten where he came from.

He attributes a lot of his success to the education he received at Columbus High School in Waterloo.

"They were huge in teaching me the work ethic, the empathy, and the appreciation for what people do and understanding how your values tie into your job," Chari said.

Raji says he begins his astronaut training August 21, 2017 in Houston, Texas.

That process takes nearly two years to complete.

Raja's wife, Holly, is also from the Cedar Valley.

She graduated high school from Cedar Falls, and she is now an attorney.

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