A former Navy SEAL and Harvard medical doctor became the first Korean American astronaut at NASA last week.
Jonny Kim, 35, graduated from the agency’s Artemis program with 12 others on Friday, making him eligible to join missions to the International Space Station and other locations, such as the moon and Mars.
The Artemis program aims to land the first woman and the next man on the moon by 2024, while their learnings will be used to send manned missions to the red planet in the future.
The graduates, composed of seven men and six women, include two candidates from the Canadian Space Agency, while the rest — including Kim — were selected from a pool of more than 18,000 applicants in 2017.
Born to South Korean immigrant parents who moved to the U.S. in the early 1980s, Kim spent his early years in Los Angeles.
After graduating from high school, he joined the Navy as a Seaman recruit, eventually earning the coveted Navy SEAL status.
The SEALs (Sea, Air, and Land Forces) are the Navy’s primary special operations force, expertly trained to “deliver highly specialized, intensely challenging warfare capabilities that are beyond the means of standard military forces.”
As a Navy SEAL, Kim served as a combat medic, sniper, navigator and point man for over 100 operations spanning over two deployments to the Middle East.
In 2012, Kim graduated from the University of San Diego with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, summa cum laude.
Four years later, he earned a Doctor of Medicine from Harvard Medical School and began his internship with Harvard Affiliated Emergency Medicine Residency.
Kim’s interest in medicine came about after seeing his friends die in combat.
One incident occurred in 2006 when he tried to save a friend who was shot in the face — but couldn’t.
“There wasn’t much I could do, just make sure his bleeding wasn’t obstructing his airway, making sure he was positioned well,” Kim told the Harvard Gazette in 2017.
“He needed a surgeon. He needed a physician and I did eventually get him to one, but … that feeling of helplessness was very profound for me.”
At the time of his selection for the Artemis program, Kim was a resident physician in emergency medicine with Partners Healthcare at Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
He remains on active duty as a Navy Lieutenant at NASA.
“I fundamentally believed in the NASA mission of advancing our space frontier all while developing innovation and new technologies that would benefit all of humankind,” Kim told the agency in 2017.
With all of his accomplishments, he stressed that worthwhile things “are very difficult to obtain.”
In a Twitter post on Monday, he called himself and his fellow graduates “the lucky ones” chosen to represent humanity.
“A true privilege and honor to walk among the NASA astronaut corps with my brothers and sisters. We know there are many qualified and deserving candidates out there — we’re the lucky ones to represent humanity,” Kim wrote. “Let’s work towards a better future for our world and our children.”
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