Jonny Kim, MD,a resident physician in the combined MGH-BWH Harvard Affiliated Emergency Medicine Residency program, has been named to NASA’s newest class of astronaut recruits. Kim – a former U.S. Navy SEAL, a 2012 Tillman Scholar and a 2016 graduate of Harvard Medical School – joins a class of 12 individuals who were selected from a record-breaking pool of more than 18,300 applicants.
According to NASA, Kim and his fellow recruits will spend two years at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, studying spacecraft systems, spacewalking skills, teamwork, Russian language and other critical skills before possible assignment to a variety of missions, including those in low-Earth orbit or further into space. NASA requires its qualified astronaut candidates to have a bachelor’s degree in engineering, mathematics, biological or physical science and have either three years of professional experience or 1,000 hours of pilot-in-command time in jet aircraft.
During a June 7 press conference at the Johnson Space Center, Kim and his new colleagues fielded questions about their backgrounds and their hopes for the future. “We’re just happy to be here to finish our candidate training and venture out into the deep unknowns of space and the solar system,” Kim said.
Kim enlisted in the Navy as a Seaman recruit following graduation from Santa Monica High School in 2002. After completion of training at Naval Special Warfare, he was assigned as a Special Warfare Operator to SEAL Team THREE in San Diego, California. He served as a combat medic, sniper, navigator and point man on more than 100 combat operations spanning two deployments to the Middle East before accepting the Navy’s commissioning program in 2009. Kim was commissioned through the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC) into the Medical Corps following graduation from the University of San Diego in 2012. He earned his medical degree in
2016 from Harvard Medical School.
“It’s hard to condense all the various experiences I’ve had that have prepared me for this,” Kim said. “But the two things that stand out for me is that I’ve always had an incredible set of mentors, leaders, colleagues, friends, family, platoon mates, who were always there for me, every step of the way when I was down – and I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for them. Their care and their compassion was absolutely instrumental for my personal and professional development.”
Kim said the other important experience has been working in small teams and responding to situations with limited data. “I had to do this as a special warfare operator in the Navy, where we worked in small teams and we leveraged each other’s strengths and weaknesses to complete the mission. This translated well into the Navy Medical Corps, where I currently serve as a resident in emergency medicine, working in an emergency room with an incredible staff of physicians and nurses. We work with patients who are very sick, with limited data, and have to make decisions to help our patients.”
In August, Kim will return to Johnson Space Center to begin his two years of training. He then will be assigned technical duties in the Astronaut Office while he awaits a flight assignment.
Above is a brief video chronicling Kim's journey into medicine produced by the Pat Tillman Foundation.
“Jonny is incredibly humble, hardworking and kind,” said David F.M. Brown, MD, chief of Emergency Medicine at MGH. “He’s a wonderful person who has succeeded at every level. So while
we were amazed to hear he had been selected, we weren’t surprised. He’s been a role model for his fellow students, trainees and veterans, and I’m certain he’ll help inspire the next generation of kids looking to the stars. While we hate to lose any resident, we’re incredibly proud of Jonny’s accomplishments and look forward to following along as he begins this next exciting chapter.”
In 2013, the MGH had the honor of announcing another member of its hospital community who may one day travel into space. Jessica Meir, PhD, who was an assistant biologist in the MGH Department of Anesthesia, Critical Care and Pain Medicine, joined NASA as an astronaut recruit and currently is listed among the 44 astronauts on NASA’s active roster.