Meet NASA's Asian-American astronaut candidates who are living all our dreams combined

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Looking towards a new era of inter-galactic exploration, American space agency NASA recently announced their picks for the newest batch of astronaut candidates – seven men and five women, aged 29 to 42.

Carefully selected from a record pool of 18,300 applicants, NASA’s class of 2017 will include individuals who have worked as doctors, scientists, engineers, pilots and military officials.

Of the 12 recruits unveiled are two Asian-Americans, resident emergency specialist Dr Jonny Kim, 33, and US Air Force Lieutenant colonel Raja Chari, 39.

They follow the footsteps of names like Ellison Onizuka, the first Asian American astronaut of Japanese origin and Kalpana Chalwla, NASA’s first female astronaut of Indian descent. 

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Hearing what Kim and Chari have accomplished in their lifetime so far, we fully agree with acting administrator of NASA, Robert Lightfoot, who said, “It makes me personally feel very inadequate when you read what these folks have done.”

Dr Jonny Kim

If you’ve served as a Navy SEAL, graduated from Harvard Medical School and worked as a doctor in two reputable hospitals, what do you have left to accomplish?

If you’re Jonny Kim – becoming an astronaut.

Photo: NASA

Born and raised in Los Angeles, California, the Korean-American is currently living the dreams of three people combined.

According to a video produced by the Pat Tillman foundation, of which he was a scholar, the former veteran was inspired to pursue his calling as a doctor after a combat stint in Iraq.

In the course of two deployments to the Middle East, Kim served as a combat medic, sniper, navigator and point man and told of how his field-experience led to his eventual calling.

“The moment I knew I wanted to go into medicine was during my first deployment to Ramadi (in Iraq), which was when one of my best friends was shot,” he said in the video. 

“Watching the spectacular team of emergency medicine physicians, orthopedic surgeons and nurses save my friend’s life is when I realised that there was a greater calling for me and that calling was medicine.”

At the time of his selection by NASA in June, Kim was serving as a resident physician in emergency medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Although he said it “may be a little unclear” what the future holds, Associated Press reported him saying that “we’re just happy to be here.”

Raja Chari

Only the second Indian American chosen by NASA for the astronaut training programme, Raja Chari is a fighter pilot born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and raised in Cedar Falls, Iowa.

Photo: NASA

A graduate of the US Air Force Academy in 1999 with a Bachelors in Astronautical Engineering and Engineering Science, Chari went on to earn a Master’s degree in Aeronautics and Astronautics from the distinguished Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

The lieutenant colonel later served with the US Air Force, accumulating over 2,000 hours of flight time under his belt on deployments to Iraq and the Korean peninsula.

The married father-of-three has been conferred numerous accolades, including the Defence Meritorious Service Medal, the Aerial Achievement Medal, Air Force Commendation medal and the Air Force Achievement Medal.

NASA class of 2017 astronaut candidates stop to take a group photo while getting fitted for flight suits at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.Photo: AFP

NASA’s 12 new recruits will join 44 other active-duty astronauts already part of the NASA corps.

Upon completion of their two-year training at the Johnson Space Centre commencing in August, they will be assigned to the astronaut office to await a flight assignment.

And in T minus who knows when, these men could possibly take mankind to infinity and beyond.

ljoey@sph.com.sg

Tuesday, June 13, 2017 – 12:45

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