True Genius: Jonny Kim is a South-Korean-American Navy Lieutenant, Physician, and NASA Astronaut All Before His 36th Birthday

Jonny Kim was already a Silver Star-awarded Navy SEAL and Harvard-educated doctor. Now the 35-year-old California native can add another title to his résumé: NASA astronaut.

Kim was among 13 men and women to graduate this month from the agency’s Artemis program, making him eligible for missions to the International Space Station, the moon and, ultimately, Mars. Even on a stage of people brimming with talent, he stood out.


“Jonny, you’re a Navy SEAL with a degree from Harvard Medical School,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) said during the graduation ceremony at the Johnson Space Center. “That’s just ridiculous! I mean, he can kill you and then bring you back to life. And do it all in space.”

Or, as a headline at Task & Purpose put it: “SEAL, Doctor, Astronaut — Navy Lt. Jonny Kim achieves your childhood dreams so you don’t have to.”

Kim is a first-generation Korean American, born in Los Angeles to parents who immigrated to the United States from South Korea in search of a better future for their children. Despite the accomplishments to come, he struggled with insecurity growing up, according to a 2017 profile in the Harvard Gazette.

Jonny Kim, a South-Korean-American, who was first a Navy SEAL, who then became a Harvard doctor who now is a fully-certified astronaut at NASA. And he achieved all this by the time he turned just 35 — Talk about commitment issues!

He recently graduated from NASA’s astronaut school and tweeted about his accomplishment.  He was one of the 13 who graduated in the class. With this degree, he will be eligible to take up space missions either through assignments on the ISS (International Space Station), the upcoming Artemis missions or could even be one of the first humans on Mars.


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

Starting his career as a Navy SEAL, he decided to switch to medicine in 2006 when he helped a wounded soldier in Iraq. He said in an interview with Harvard Gazette, “He had a pretty grave wound to the face. 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.”


He further added, “Losing a lot of good friends galvanized me and made a lot of my remaining teammates make sure we made our lives worthwhile. I still, to this day, every day, think of all the good people who didn’t get a chance to come home. I try to make up for the lives and positive [impact] they would have had if they were alive.”

After completing his medical degree while he was in his first year in a four-year residency at Massachusetts General Hospital, he decided to enrol for NASA’s Astronaut program. He wasn’t thinking he’ll get through, he just wanted to be prepared when he does — as getting enrolled can get tricky with a selection process involving over 18,000 applicants. But he got lucky in the first go.

Sharing his learning experiences throughout the years, he said, “I’m going to be a student at the bottom of another totem pole trying to learn as much information as possible. I’m excited for the adventure. I think it’ll be another occupation where I say, ‘I can’t believe I’m getting paid for doing this.’”


Written by How Africa

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