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First Korean NASA astronaut speaks about importance of diversity and inclusion: 'I want to inspire people'

Born and raised in Los Angeles to Korean-American immigrants, his journey to finally becoming a NASA astronaut is truly inspiring.

First Korean NASA astronaut speaks about importance of diversity and inclusion: 'I want to inspire people'
Cover Image Source: Twitter | @NASA

Jonny Kim is a proud Artemis team member, a group of selected astronauts focused on the development and training efforts for early Artemis missions. Born and raised in Los Angeles, California, to Korean-American immigrants, the 39-year-old astronaut spoke to ABC News about the diversity in space exploration and being a role model for future generations. As a decorated Navy Seal, a Harvard-trained doctor and now a NASA astronaut, his accomplishments are inspiring and remarkable, considering after growing up in a difficult household that left him scared and full of self-doubt. However, Kim was selected to be a part of the 2017 Astronaut Candidate Class, which plans to walk on the moon and Mars in 2024.



 

"Growing up, I did not have a lot of confidence, so the first dream I had was to enlist in the Navy to become a Navy Seal and be the strong person I wanted to become," said Kim. "I never thought about being an astronaut, and I never even thought about being a doctor until I became a SEAL." When asked about how he felt when he knew he would go to space eventually, Kim replied, "Just by happenstance, someone planted a seed that being a NASA astronaut filled all the same reasons I wanted to be a doctor- to inspire people, to make  a positive impact in peoples lives." The Silver Star recipient is ready to go on a once-in-a-lifetime experience as he undergoes rigorous training to travel to space.



 

"I know what the investments, the sacrifices, and the work we do for Artemis to get to the moon and Mars, it will unlock decades of inspiration that will do good things for not just the country but for the world," Kim added. When speaking to NBC News in 2020, just a week after graduating from NASA's Artemis program and making himself eligible for blasting off into space, Kim shared that if there were a time machine, he would travel back in time to tell his younger self about what he is doing now. Kim, the first NASA astronaut of full Korean descent, said he follows former astronaut Mark Polansky, whose mother is Korean.



 

 



 

“I was reminded of that, that I was the only Asian in a lot of things I was doing," Kim said. "I felt the pressure that I wanted to be the best I could be, to make sure I was a good representation, to disprove any Asian stereotypes." He added he could count the number of Asian American Navy SEALs on one hand, "and we all knew each other," he said. "If anything it made me stronger. I don't care about any perceived notions." Kim graduated from the University of San Diego with a degree in mathematics and then from Harvard Medical School. He left for NASA with three years of residency left after completing his first year of residency at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.



 

The incredibly talented and gifted individual is eager to set foot on the moon and Mars and said the relative lack of trailblazers only encourages him to move forward. “And that’s what excites me when I think of Artemis, " Kim said, per Best of Korea. "The lives that we are going to going to positively impact on this endeavor. It’s hard to articulate all of those emotions, but it’s wow. I am an astronaut, and I have this amazing opportunity to serve my country and humanity.”

As for his space exploration, Kim said that exploration is in our human DNA. He added: "When I realized that being an astronaut is really the opportunity to expand our understanding of the cosmos, to make our world a better place, all while inspiring the next generation of children, the same children that didn’t have the confidence to dream as I did, that was when I realized that I absolutely wanted to become an astronaut.”

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