As the U.S. strides quickly toward establishing a base on the moon and ultimately sending astronauts to Mars, NASA's 18 Artemis astronauts are the ones taking the first steps on this journey.

Among them is Raja Chari, a decorated Air Force commander with more than 2,000 hours of flight time, including in combat missions during Operation Ariqi Freedom.

Chari, 43, reported for duty as part of the 2017 Astronaut Candidate Class in August of that year. 

A graduate of the Air Force Academy and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the married father of three said being an astronaut was his childhood dream. 

When he was selected for astronaut training in 2017, Chari was a Colonel select in the U.S. Air Force where he served as the commander of the 461st Flight Test Squadron. He was also the director of the F-35 Integrated Test Force.  

Chari sat down with Spectrum News 13 recently to discuss his life, career and journey to becoming an astronaut.

Paramount was his team's current mission to return to the moon.

"To work with the people who are coming up with these ideas, working with these machines that are going to take humanity to our next giant leap, that's what I'm most excited about," he said. "It's cool to go to space, don't get me wrong, it's cool to operate these things."

See Chari's full interview with Spectrum News 13's Jesse Canales: