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Ex-Navy SEAL and Harvard graduate is NASA's first Korean-American astronaut

A new class of future NASA astronauts graduates
A new class of future NASA astronauts graduates 02:30

At just 35 years old, Jonny Kim has served overseas as a Navy SEAL and graduated from Harvard Medical School. Last week, he became NASA's first Korean-American astronaut. 

Thirteen men and women celebrated their completion of NASA's Artemis astronaut training program on Friday. Each of them is now a candidate for future missions, which could include a trip to the moon and Mars. 

A record-setting 18,000 applicants recently applied to join the ranks as a NASA astronaut. The U.S. Embassy in Seoul said Kim is the first Korean-American to make the cut.

"A true privilege and honor to walk among the @NASA Astronaut Corps with my brothers and sisters," Kim tweeted Tuesday. "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."

The purpose of the Artemis program is to build a sustainable infrastructure on the moon that can be used in preparation for Mars exploration. NASA plans to send the next man and first woman to the moon by 2024.

Kim was born and raised in Los Angeles to Korean-American immigrants. His parents were South Korean immigrants who came to the U.S. in the early 1980s to provide their children with a better life.

As a Navy Seal, Kim served as a Special Operations Combat Medic, sniper, navigator and point man on more than 100 combat operations during two deployments to the Middle East.

Kim went on to earn his degree in mathematics at the University of San Diego and a doctorate of medicine from Harvard Medical School. When he got the call about his astronaut candidacy in 2017, he was a resident physician at Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women's Hospital. 

Jonny Kim Robert Markowitz/NASA

Kim completed two years of training as an astronaut candidate before graduating last week. According to NASA, training included technical and operational instruction in International Space Station systems, Extravehicular Activities Operations, T-38 flight training, robotics, physiological training, expeditionary training, field geology, water and wilderness survival training and Russian language proficiency training.

"I fundamentally believed in the NASA mission of advancing our space frontier, all the while developing innovations and new technologies that would benefit all of humankind," Kim said in a 2017 NASA interview about becoming an astronaut candidate.

But Kim said his accomplishments haven't come easy. "All things that are worthwhile are very difficult to obtain," he said. 

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