35-Year-Old Navy SEAL Turned Harvard Doctor Becomes NASA's First Korean-American Astronaut

"He can kill you and bring you back to life — and do it all in space," Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said of Jonny Kim last week

Astronaut Jonny Kim

Jonny Kim, a former Navy SEAL with a medical degree from Harvard, will soon be headed to the International Space Station — and will be making history along the way.

Last week, the 35-year-old from Los Angeles became NASA’s first Korean-American astronaut after completing the agency’s two-year Artemis astronaut training program on Jan. 10.

“A true privilege and honor to walk among the @NASA Astronaut Corps with my brothers and sisters,” Kim said in a tweet of completing the program, which is focused on building sustainable architecture on the Moon to be used for a trip to Mars. “We know there are many qualified and deserving candidates out there — we’re the lucky ones to represent humanity. Let’s work towards a better future for our world and our children.”

Kim’s parents are South Korean immigrants who moved to Southern California in the early 1980s, according to CBS News.

Kim initially decided to join the Navy after he believed he wasn’t on the right career path leading up to his high school graduation.

“I didn’t like the person I was growing up to become,” Kim told the Harvard Gazette in 2017. “I needed to find myself and my identity. And for me, getting out of my comfort zone, getting away from the people I grew up with, and finding adventure, that was my odyssey, and it was the best decision I ever made.”

After joining, Kim became part of the SEAL team, the Navy’s primary special operations force. He then trained as a navigator, sniper, and combat medic — which eventually inspired him to pursue medicine after he treated a friend who was shot in overseas combat in 2006.

“He had a pretty grave wound to the face,” Kim recalled to the Gazette. “It was one of the worst feelings of helplessness. There wasn’t much I could do, just make sure his bleeding wasn’t obstructing his airway, making sure he was positioned well. 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.”

In 2012, Kim earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of San Diego and went on to graduate from Harvard Medical School in 2016. He then beat out a reported 18,000 applicants to join NASA’s astronaut program in 2017.

“He can kill you and bring you back to life — and do it all in space,” Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said of Kim’s qualifications during his NASA graduation ceremony, according to Business Insider.

Kim isn’t the only NASA employee to make history recently.

Astronaut Christina Koch broke the record for the longest spaceflight by a woman in history in December, eclipsing the record of former astronaut Peggy Whitson, who spent 289 days, 5 hours and 1 minute in space in 2017, according to Space.com.

Koch has been on the International Space Station since March 14, 2019, and is expected to remain aboard the satellite until February 2020, according to her NASA biography. Her mission was initially supposed to last six months but it was extended by NASA to study the effects of long-duration spaceflight on the body.

Additionally, in October, both Koch and astronaut Jessica Meir performed the first-ever all-female spacewalk. The two spent more than seven hours fixing a faulty power controller outside of the ISS.

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