The sky is no limit for this Navy SEAL, doctor, and — now — astronaut

Dylan Wu

Jonathan Kim, a 35-year-old California native, was already a Navy SEAL with a Silver Star and a doctor with a degree from Harvard. Now he can add another title to his list of remarkable accomplishments: NASA astronaut.

He was selected as 1 out of 13 men and women that graduated from NASA’s Artemis program, which makes him eligible for missions on the ISS, moon, and potentially Mars. Even among the extraordinary talent, Mr. Kim 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 perfectly summed it up: “SEAL, Doctor, Astronaut — Navy Lt. Jonny Kim achieve your childhood dreams so you don’t have to.”

According to his profile in the 2017 Harvard Gazette, Mr. Kim is a Korean-American born in LA with parents who emigrated from S. Korea to provide a better future for their children. Despite the accomplishments to come later in life, he felt insecure when he was growing up and had a hard time at school. That was when he made the bold decision of enlisting in the Navy as a seaman just before his graduation from Santa Monica High in 2002. When he asked a recruiter if he could be a SEAL, the response was that he could only try: Mr. Kim was grateful even for the opportunity, according to the Gazette.

“I didn’t like the person I was growing up to become,” Mr. Kim admitted in an interview with the newspaper. “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.” 

The training was quite rigorous, and Mr. Kim faced many doubts about the path he was taking, especially during “hell week”, an exceedingly tiring and non-stop set of challenges that all candidates must endure. However, his perseverance paid off and he was recruited to the elite team.  He was part of more than 100 combat operations in two deployments to the Middle East and served as a combat medic, sniper, navigator. Mr. Kim was awarded a Silver Star and a Bronze Star for his service.

It was on one of these missions that he found the motivation for becoming a doctor. When working as a medic in 2006, two of his friends were shot. Mr. Kim attempted to treat one who had a severe wound in the face, but he felt powerless to act due to his limited medical knowledge. “It was one of the worst feelings of helplessness,” Mr. Kim said, according to the paper. “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.”

Thus, he was determined to become a doctor as a result of this experience. In 2012, Mr. Kim’s degree in mathematics from the University of San Diego; in 2016, he earned his doctorate in medicine from Harvard. He spent a year in residency at Massachusetts General Hospital, and it was then that he applied to become a NASA Astronaut. Mr. Kim was very much surprised when he, along with ten other candidates, were selected out of 18,000 applicants to become a NASA astronaut. “I think my heart was racing 100 beats a second, and I tried not to lose my composure in the middle of the grocery store,” he said in a video released by NASA. “But once I got the news and I hung up, I ran over to my wife, and I was jumping up and down and telling her that we got in.”

He underwent two years of training that included spacewalking, robotics, International Space Station systems, and Russian, to become eligible for spaceflight.

The Artemis program, which Mr. Kim is now a part of, strives to send the first man and woman to the moon by 2024 and use what they learn there to make realize a mission to Mars. When asked about the significance of the program,  NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said during the graduation, “These astronauts could one day, in fact, walk on the moon as part of the Artemis program, and perhaps one of them could be among the first humans to walk on Mars.”