While most are focused on earthly endeavors and the routine of life, one individual has his eyes on space and the future. Twenty-three years into his aerospace career, A.C. Charania’s next mission is serving as NASA’s Chief Technologist. In his new role, he’s “very excited to bring all the lessons and experiences that have shaped me to help NASA be the best it can be in the twenty-first century.”

Early into his tenure, he has been analyzing the lunar permanence of stars and shadowing his colleagues on the challenges and objectives that he will soon spearhead. Among the key focus areas are another moon landing as well as climate science, finding life, and planetary defense. Ultimately, his goal is to “best optimize the technologies we’re investing in, and the agency.”

A hurdle he overcame previously was the disconnect between the public and private sectors. Now, as the premier agency’s Chief Technologist, he cares deeply about making NASA a better collaborator and partner for others in the space (industry) to propel and accelerate everyone’s work forward. He uses the phrase, “protecting the planet through the lens of speed and commercial engagement.”

A.C. Charania with a 3D model of the moon

A.C. Charania with a 3D model of the moon
A.C. Charania with a 3D model of the moon

After graduating from Georgia Tech with his Master’s in Aerospace Engineering and before NASA, he worked in the commercial space industry. While there, he gained valuable knowledge and insight that can now be leveraged at NASA. He worked in strategy and business development for the Virgin Galactic (now Virgin Orbit) LauncherOne small satellite launch vehicle program. He led the formation of the FastForward industry group focused on high-speed point-to-point transportation, was a NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts Fellow, and served on the Lunar Exploration Analysis Group Commercial Advisory Board.

Looking back, he says, “Every step of my career has been challenges [Space-X, startups, etc.] that people didn’t think were possible… now, it’s like ‘of course, commercial space!’” He says his next challenge is to “communicate and accelerate” NASA’s relevance in the modern era, in addition to turning up the quality and level of partnerships it’s doing commercially, internally, and with other government agencies.

While working for NASA can be like any other job—working well with others, meeting timelines and budgets, etc.—the coolest thing about working for the agency, he says, is being part of its rich tradition, working with brilliant minds and for great leadership, plus contributing to groundbreaking projects.

Outside of work, his hobbies include traveling, film noir movies, and outer space art. In Atlanta, where he grew up and lived previously, he was involved in the Expressions of the Pamir event at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library.

Charania cites the immigrant experience (he was born in Pakistan) and his parents taking the risk by coming to America to create a better future for their family, as a fundamental factor in his success. The focus on education, intellect, and integrating into society that the faith teaches also served as guiding principles that have led him to where he is today.

Taking risks “gives you confidence to be forward-leaning in technologies, life, and challenges,” which is why he encourages others to do it themselves. After seeing how it’s paid off for him, who can disagree?