Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated in the United States from Sept.15 to Oct.15. It is a time to celebrate and recognize the contributions, culture, and history of Latinx Americans.
This month, we would like to celebrate the story of NASA astronaut José M. Hernández. His story was shared in the highly regarded movie A Million Miles Away and his book Reaching for the Stars: The Inspiring Story of a Migrant Farmworker Turned Astronaut.
José Hernández’s Story:
José M. Hernández had a dream to become an astronaut. He was inspired by the Apollo 11 moon landing and was determined to reach for the stars. However, his journey towards achieving his goal was far from easy.
José was born into a family of migrant laborers who settled in California. He and his family worked tirelessly in the crop fields, moving around often to find where their work was needed. The family’s sole focus was to provide for themselves and save money to purchase a home in Mexico, where they ultimately thought they’d return.
As a child, José faced language barriers and, although gifted, struggled with consistency in school; often, he and many other children, who worked in the same fields, would leave class together to help their families with the labor. His frequent absences stopped when a dedicated teacher advocated for his education, and his parents settled down in Stockton, CA, allowing José the chance to excel academically and quit working in the fields.
José’s passion for science and math grew in high school, and he set his sights on attending college. However, financial constraints posed a significant challenge. Undeterred, José worked multiple jobs to save money for his education. He worked as a janitor, a dishwasher, and returned to his roots as a farm laborer during the summer months.
With his hard-earned savings, José enrolled at the University of the Pacific, where he pursued a degree in electrical engineering. During this time, he applied to the NASA Astronaut Selection Program and was rejected. However, this rejection did not deter him; it only pushed him to work harder. However, even with his continued self-advancement, his rejections began to tally.
José learned martial arts, achieved peak physical fitness, obtained a master’s degree in engineering at the University of California, Santa Barabara, and even moved to Russia to help organize and control the Russian nuclear stockpile, becoming fluent in Russian in the process. Still, he faced 11 applications and 11 rejections from the program. Finally, in 2004, after his 12th application, he was accepted into the NASA Astronaut Selection Program.
In 2009, after undergoing years of rigorous training, he was invited to fly aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery as a mission specialist. He accepted the invitation, and after refining preparations, José M. Hernández became the first migrant farmworker to travel to space.
José’s incredible journey from a migrant farmworker to an astronaut serves as an inspiration to countless individuals. His story highlights the power of perseverance, hard work, and unwavering determination in the face of adversity. Even more, it is an excellent example of how the support of just one person at a pivotal moment can make a difference in their ability to reach their potential.
José’s story leaves the question, what are your dreams? What is holding you back?
No dream is too big, and no dreamer is too small. Shoot for the stars!
Please note: If you feel stuck or there is a dream you have not realized, our clinicians would be happy to help you come closer to your personal goals. Perseverance is not just unique to José Hernández; humans are born with an innate ability to persevere! Sometimes, our inner perseverance gets tired or needs to be nurtured to grow; we can help you with this process!