From Migrant Farm Worker to NASA Astronaut, Jose Hernandez Inspiring Journey to Space

Interviewed for Risen Magazine

Risen Magazine: I am so excited to talk to you this morning. I just found your story to be so inspiring, unbelievable at points, because of your perseverance and this relentless pursuit of your goal. Maybe share a little bit about writing your story and then now getting to see it in this format of the film that so many more can consume.

Jose Hernandez: I’m very excited as well because when I left NASA, I started giving motivational talks. Those attendees recommended I write a book, which I did. And then the mothers recommended I write a children’s book, which I did. And then the publisher said, “Give me a middle-reader book.”

So, we had these three books written and I was out on the talk circuit and that’s when a film studio came and said, “We think your story is worthy of having a biopic done.” I was so humbled by that offer. When they wrote the first script and I read it, I said, “This could serve to inspire millions of people through this medium.” And that’s when I agreed to, I said, “Yeah, let’s do this.” The rest is history.

RM: I’m so glad you did, and I love that you break it down with this recipe for success that you had, starting with identifying and finding a goal. Start with a snippet that others can glean, if they might be in a situation where they find themselves stagnant.

JH: It is exactly that, when I was 10 years old, I told my dad I wanted to be an astronaut, after seeing the very last Apollo mission on TV. He gave me that simple, five-ingredient recipe. He said, “First, determine your purpose in life. Second, recognize how far you are from that goal. Third, draw yourself a roadmap so you know how to get there. And fourth, prepare yourself according to the challenge you picked. And fifth, develop a work ethic second to none.” He says, “You mix that up, Son, and that’s the recipe to succeed.” Then I add the sixth ingredient, which is perseverance. In other words, never give up on yourselves. You follow that six-ingredient recipe, and I’ll make the same promise my father made to me, to your viewers, that they too can reach for their own stars.

RM: I love that. When you said tenacity is a superpower, I definitely think that that is something that sets you apart and anyone that’s willing to go that distance apart from all the others, because it just takes plain work. Nearly a dozen applications, year after year, making sacrifices for your family… I’m curious, what allowed you to be able to handle the rejection and turn it into motivation rather than just defeat?

JH: The first thing is, I always tell people, make sure you enjoy the journey to your destination, ’cause that’s eighty, ninety-percent of your time and effort. I was enjoying my own journey, being an engineer, working at a research facility, so I was doing what I loved already.

Was I disappointed each time I got a rejection? Yeah, I was, no one likes rejection. But I would prop myself back up after each rejection and I said, “What’s the worst that could happen if you never get selected?” I said, “I see. I went to college, I went to graduate school. I’m working at a premier research facility. I became a pilot, scuba dive, learned a third language, have a great-paying job. It’s not a bad consolation prize.”

I was at peace with myself, obviously still wanting to reach that goal, but the thing is that I was also enjoying my journey. And that’s the important part. I wasn’t obsessed by the fact that, I got to be an astronaut. I got to be an astronaut, and I’m not going to enjoy the path until I get there. No, I was enjoying the path. I would say, “I hope I get there.” And I’ll try and do things to get there as much as I can, but I want to enjoy my life too. And I had a beautiful wife, I have children, and so I want to make sure we were all doing well.

RM: You mentioned a few of those hobbies and skills. I found that fascinating that you would tackle those in order to make yourself more well-rounded. Is there one that stood out as your favorite or that you still continue today?

JH: Running marathons. I found myself a very good marathon runner. I broke three hours on my second marathon, so that was pretty cool.

RM: Is there anything you can’t do?

JH: I don’t know. There’s a lot I can’t do. If we could put more zeros in my bank account, that I can’t do. See?

RM: One of the things, as I know, key points in history, you always remember where you were or what you were doing. For you, remembering that first launch into space… what were some of the emotions wrapped around that?

JH: It was like you get emotional, because I looked at my shoulder and you have that orange pumpkin suit and you have that American flag on your shoulder. I was, what, 47 at the time. And when I wanted to become an astronaut, I was 10 years old. Even after 10 years old, I was still working in the fields as a migrant farm worker. I just said, “To think that 30 years ago I was working, picking fruits and vegetables to put on the tables of American families, and now I’m representing the United States on a second to last mission to finish construction of the International Space Station.”

And I said, “How great is this country of ours, that allows you to come from humble beginnings and rise and be able to reach your American dream?” I’m very grateful to this country for allowing me to do that and tell everybody that this is the country of great opportunity. But it doesn’t fall from the sky, you got to earn it. You got to work hard for it.

RM: Maybe in our last remaining minute, I love the idea that the importance of having teammates and having cheerleaders, whether it’s a teacher or a parent or a spouse, talk to me about the importance of surrounding yourself with people that only want to see you succeed.

JH: Yes. I think that’s the important thing as well, is that you surround yourself with people that are going to help you, and you’re not afraid to talk about your goals and objectives with them because they will help you. You’ll have your own Ms. Young. You’ll have someone like my wife, like my parents, like my coworkers at Lawrence Livermore Lab. They’ll help you if you share this dream and they’ll help you get there, so it’s very important. To me, it was a community effort to get me to become an astronaut. It wasn’t an individual effort. It was a community effort.

Watch A Million Miles Away on Amazon Prime September 15



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