Ex-Navy SEAL and Harvard doc is now the first Korean-American headed to space

Graduating from Harvard Medical School and being a part of the Navy SEALs must not have been enough accomplishments for Jonny Kim. The 35-year-old is now the first Korean-American to become a NASA astronaut.

Kim, along with 12 others, graduated last week from NASA’s Artemis program, allowing the astronauts to be eligible to participate in missions to the International Space Station, to the moon and even Mars.

Two of the candidates were from the Canadian Space Agency, but the 11 others, including Kim, were selected from an initial pool of more than 18,000 applicants, NASA said.

A child of immigrant parents

Kim’s family background is one that many children of immigrants can relate to.

“My parents were South Korean immigrants who came to America in the early 80s for the hope of a better life for their children,” Kim said in a 2017 interview with NASA.

After he graduated high school in Los Angeles, Kim joined the Navy as a Seaman recruit, which eventually led him to obtain the elite military status of a Navy SEAL. He served as a combat medic, sniper, and navigator on more than 100 combat operations across two deployments to the Middle East, NASA said.

Kim went on to earn his degree in mathematics at the University of San Diego and a doctorate of medicine at Harvard Medical School. At the time of his astronaut candidacy selection in June 2017, Kim was a resident physician at a hospital in Massachusetts, according to NASA.

Kim wanted to become an astronaut because he “fundamentally believed in the NASA mission of advancing our space frontier all the while developing innovation and new technologies that would benefit all of humankind,” he said in the 2017 interview.

But for those thinking that these achievements came easy, think again, Kim said.

If he had to give his younger self a piece of advice, he said it would be this: “All things that are worthwhile are very difficult to obtain.”

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