The Declaration of Independence says that all men are created equal… but some seem to really push the envelope on that notion. One of them is Jonny Kim, who is not only one of NASA's newest astronauts, but is also a graduate of Harvard Medical School and an active-duty Navy lieutenant with a distinguished combat record after serving with SEAL Team Three.
With such an impressive resume, the 35-year-old Kim seems to have achieved three lifetimes' worth of childhood dreams in one. But, according to a 2017 profile of the sailor for the Harvard Gazette, Kim started out with a feeling we can all relate to: a lack of self-confidence.
"I didn't like the person I was growing up to become," Kim told the Gazette, about his decision to enlist in the Navy after graduating high school in 2002. "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."
Even so, Kim was close to quitting during Hell Week, the infamous five-day stretch of near-continuous training through which all SEAL candidates must pass.
"They let us sleep for a couple of hours in nice sleeping bags, one of only two naps you get in five days of training," the Los Angeles native told the Gazette. "And when you're snuggled up in this warm sleeping bag and they wake you up and immediately make you go in the frigid ocean, it was the closest I ever came to quitting. I had that taste of comfort, and then it was taken away from you. The cold was magnified because your body's so broken."
Try as it might, the cold didn't stop Kim from becoming a SEAL. According to his NASA biography, Kim served as a combat medic, sniper, navigator, and point man on more than 100 combat operations spanning two deployments to the Middle East, including to Ramadi and Sadr City, Iraq. Along the way, he earned a Silver Star and a Bronze Star with Combat "V." Kim was also the Special Operations Medical Association 2006 Naval Special Warfare Medic of the Year, according to the VA.
However, those achievements came with a cost, as Kim saw several of his buddies killed in combat. In fact, part of what inspired him to become a doctor was the feeling of helplessness he experienced in 2006, as he tried to treat a friend who was shot in the face. He eventually died from his wounds.
"There wasn't much I could do, just make sure his bleeding wasn't obstructing his airway, making sure he was positioned well," Kim told the Gazette. "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."
Three years later, determined to become a doctor, Kim entered Seaman to Admiral-21, a Navy enlisted-to-officer commissioning program. After graduating with a degree in mathematics from the University of San Diego in 2012, Kim arrived at Harvard Medical School, where he specialized in emergency medicine.
While the Gazette didn't ask Kim what inspired him to become an astronaut, he obviously had the right stuff for it. Out of more than 18,300 applicants, only Kim and 11 other men and women were selected for the 2017 astronaut candidate class.
Over two years of basic training, Kim and his fellow candidates trained in spacewalking, robotics, International Space Station systems, T-38 jet proficiency and Russian language. They graduated in December, at an exciting time for NASA as the agency plans land Americans on the moon by 2024, in preparation for mankind's first trip to Mars.
"I'm excited for the adventure," Kim told the Gazette in 2017. "I think it'll be another occupation where I say, 'I can't believe I'm getting paid for doing this.'"
Kim isn't the only service member in the class. Among his comrades are:
- Kayla Barron, a Navy lieutenant, Naval Academy graduate and submarine warfare officer who studied nuclear engineering at the University of Cambridge.
- Raja Chari, an Air Force colonel who graduated from the Pax River U.S. Naval Test Pilot School, commanded the 461st Flight Test Squadron, and directed the F-35 Integrated Test Force at Edwards Air Force Base, California.
- Matthew Dominick, a Navy Lieutenant commander who also graduated from Naval Test Pilot School and served as department head for Strike Fighter Squadron 115 aboard the USS Ronald Reagan.
- Bob Hines, an Air Force lieutenant colonel who served as a test pilot on all models of the F-15 and deployed in support of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. Hines also served as a test pilot for the Federal Aviation Administration and as a research pilot for NASA.
- Jasmin Moghbeli, a Marine Corps major and a Naval Test Pilot School graduate who tested H-1 helicopters and served as the quality assurance and avionics officer for Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron 1.
- Dr. Francisco "Frank" Rubio, an Army lieutenant colonel and a West Point graduate with more than 1,100 hours experience as a Black Hawk helicopter pilot (600 of which were combat and imminent danger time), who also served as a surgeon for 3rd battalion, 10th Special Forces Group.
- From our northern neighbor: Joshua Kutryk, a Royal Canadian Air Force lieutenant colonel who led the unit responsible for the operational flight-testing of fighter aircraft in Canada.