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Retired NASA astronaut visits Orange, recounts his journey from farm fields to outer space – Orange County Register

By Larry Urish, Contributing Writer

A source of many life-enhancing benefits, a quality education can motivate students to succeed, giving them a clear sense of purpose. As the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once said: “If you give a man a ‘why,’ he will always find a ‘how.’ »

On a starry night in 1972, 10-year-old José Hernández found his “why.” And all he had to do was look up to the sky.

Throughout his childhood, young José traveled with his family of migrant farm workers across central California, doing backbreaking labor. However, after decades of hard work, focus and perseverance, this land-poor farm worker became a space traveler. Today, retired NASA astronaut José Hernández’s primary life goal is simple: “To inspire, to help people reach their maximum potential in everything they do.” »

Hernández’s visit to Santiago Canyon College on March 27, presented by SCC’s STEM Success Team and its College Migrant Assistance Program, included a screening of “A Million Miles Away,” the feature film based on the Hernández’s life, as well as his evening, we will talk about his journey from the agricultural fields to space.

Along with his stargazing, Hernández was originally inspired by his love of “Star Trek” and his fascination with NASA’s Apollo 17 lunar mission in 1972. However, the twinkling stars, Captain Kirk and milestones Moonlight could only take a poor farm worker so far. Achieving his noble goal was an arduous task. “I didn’t do this alone,” Hernández emphasized. “It involved a lot of people. … My mother taught us (my siblings and me) a good work ethic and good study habits, and my father made us understand that school was a priority. He would often gesture to the fields and say, “This is your future unless you get an education.” »

His father, Salvador, also provided the Hernández children with his five-step “recipe for success”: “Define your purpose in life,” José Hernández recounted. “Recognize how far you are from this goal. Draw yourself a road map from where you are to where you want to go. Prepare according to the challenge. And develop a work ethic that is second to none.

Hernández earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering at the University of the Pacific and then a master’s degree in signals and systems engineering at UC Santa Barbara. Hernández worked for 15 years at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, beginning in 1987. During his tenure there, he helped develop X-ray laser technology used in President Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative , nicknamed “Star Wars”. He and a colleague then applied this technology to the early detection of breast cancer, saving many lives.

“This is my proudest professional moment,” Hernández said of the digital mammography technology. “It’s a greater accomplishment than even going to space.”

Going into space, however, remained an elusive dream. Hernández applied to NASA’s Astronaut Candidate program 11 times — and was rejected each time — before finally being accepted in May 2004. “The 12th time was a charm,” he joked.

This perseverance points to its own sixth “ingredient,” added to his father’s five-step recipe for success: “Persevere.” Never give up on yourself.

Emphasizing once again that his success was not a solo effort, Hernández explained how one day he crumpled up his sixth rejection letter from NASA and threw it in a trash can. “My wife found the letter crumpled because I had missed the trash and she encouraged me to persist,” Hernández said.

If the rejection letter had been thrown in the trash, he said, “She would have thrown the letter away and I would have given up.” … My wife was critical. She was a cheerleader throughout the whole process.

After years of rigorous training, Hernández’s lifelong dream came true on August 28, 2009, when he and his STS-128 crewmates aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery were launched into orbit and docked with the Station. international space.

Screwed, indeed. “We went from zero to 17,500 miles per hour in 8 and a half minutes,” Hernández told his audience at Santiago Canyon College. In 14 days, he and his NASA compatriots transferred 7 tons of new equipment to the ISS and orbited the Earth 217 times, traveling more than 5.7 million miles.

Although he retired from NASA in January 2011, Hernández is anything but the retirement type. He noted that in addition to being a gubernatorial appointee of the University of California Board of Regents, he is the founder and CEO of Tierra Luna Engineering, author of three books, including his 2012 memoir, “Reaching for the Stars” – and owner of the Tierra Luna Cellars vineyard and winery. And, as hundreds of people when he visited CSC last month will attest, he is also an extremely effective motivational speaker.

“There’s nothing wrong with dreaming big,” Hernández emphasized to the audience as he finished his speech. “With education and hard work, you can reach the stars. I am living proof.

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