WATERLOO, Iowa (KWWL) -- It'd be cliche to say that Colonel Raja Chari told students to reach for the stars, when in all actuality he's reaching for the moon. Chari graduated with NASA's newest astronaut class on January 10th.
Chari, a Cedar Falls native, returned to his alma mater this week, Columbus Catholic High School in Waterloo, as a way to inspire students to possibly pursue careers in science and math.
"Geometry has been a very important part of the air force flying and NASA as well,” Chari said.
Chari shared his journey with the students, telling them about being a test pilot, graduating from MIT, and training as one of NASA's newest astronauts. He credited his success to where he was raised.
"Cedar Falls, Waterloo is a huge part of who I am growing up, huge part of why I am who I am today," Chari said.
The astronaut also said he wanted to return to show his gratitude for the teachers who influenced him in school.
"Being here back at the school, where so many of the teachers made an impact on me, was really important for me to come back and say thanks,” Chari said.
Chari is part of the first class to graduate under NASA's Artemis program, which aims to establish a permanent human presence on and around the moon. NASA bills the program as a trip to the moon “to stay.”
The end goal of the program is the 4th planet from the sun.
Chari hoped his visit would appeal to students interested in pursuing careers in science and math. He said one of them could hold the answers to overcome the challenges preventing astronauts from reaching Mars.
"I used to be sitting in their seats and I wanted to let them know that anything they want to do is possible if they work hard and enjoy what they're doing," Chari said.
He noted that he applied twice before he was accepted into the astronaut program.
It's another detail he hopes will instill perseverance in students.
According to their website, NASA aims to have the first manned mission to Mars occur sometime in the 2030s.