Indian-American Raja Chari, a United States Air Force colonel, is among 18 astronauts selected by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration for its manned moon mission. US Vice President Mike Pence announced the names on Wednesday, according to PTI.

NASA is planning to send the first woman and the next man to walk on the moon in 2024 under its Artemis programme. Half of the astronauts chosen to go to the moon are women. Chari, a resident of Cedar Falls, Iowa, is the only Indian-American among the selected candidates.

At the time of his selection in June 2017, Chari was a colonel select in the US Air Force and was serving as the commander of the 461st Flight Test Squadron and the director of the F-35 Integrated Test Force, the space agency said. He has completed two years of training with the space agency as an astronaut candidate and was awaiting his flight assignments.

Chari holds a bachelor’s degree in Astronautical Engineering from the US Air Force Academy and a master’s degree in Aeronautics and Astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Pence announced 18 astronauts chosen for the planned moon mission at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. “My fellow Americans, I give you the heroes of the future who will carry us back to the Moon and beyond: the Artemis Generation,” he said. “It really is amazing to think that the next man and the first woman on the Moon are among the names that we just read... We started today reflecting on a great hero of the past.”

The astronauts on the Artemis team come from a diverse range of backgrounds, experience and expertise. Most of them are in their 30s or 40s. The oldest among them is 55 and the youngest is 32. The group also includes Christina Koch and Jessica Meir – the two astronauts who performed the world’s first all-female spacewalk in October 2019. Besides the 18 members, additional people, including astronauts from international partners will join this group as needed.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine thanked President Donald Trump and Pence for their support, as well as departments of the space agency such as aeronautics research, technology development and human exploration goals.

The astronauts will start working in collaboration with the agency’s commercial partners from next year to develop mechanisms for human landing, defining hardware requirements, and consulting on technical development.

“There is so much exciting work ahead of us as we return to the moon, and it will take the entire astronaut corps to make that happen,” Chief Astronaut Pat Forrester said. “Walking on the lunar surface would be a dream come true for any one of us, and any part we can play in making that happen is an honour.”