Who Inspires Me: Jose Hernandez, From Farmer to Astronaut

As you may already know, I was born and raised in Mexico, and September is the month we celebrate our Independence from Spain. So I thought I could write a few “Who Inspires Me” posts about Mexican people and their stories, and how they’ve inspired me through my life. Hope you enjoy reading their stories and get inspired as well!

Jose’s parents, Salvador Hernandez and Julia Moreno, are from Michoacan, Mexico. They used to work on the fields, as many immigrants do in the US. Jose’s childhood was a little bit unusual, although for him was “normal”. His parents would go from city to city following the vegetable and fruit harvest all through California for 9 months; the other 3 months of the year they’d travel to Mexico. Jose and his brothers changed schools often because of this. They would go to school from Monday to Friday, and then they would work on the fields with their parents. Summer meant they would have to work the entire week.

Then, a second grade teacher advised his parents to stay in just one place so that they wouldn’t affect his kids’ education. Because of all this moving around, Jose didn’t really learn English until he was around 12 years old. However, he compensated in other subjects in school, like math.

“I became interested in engineering from a young age, aside from learning English, we would learn other subjects and math was one of them, and that was my shelter because two plus three is five in any language. Naturally, that is the reason why I focused on math and science … by the time I was in middle school, I already knew I wanted to become an engineer.”

He was only 10 years old, when in 1972 he watched Apollo 17 live on his black-and-white TV. He remembers holding the TV’s antenna to not lose reception, listening to the commander Eugene Cernan talk with mission control and walk on the moon’s surface. “That is when my dream to become an astronaut was born because I would hear him, watch him, then go outside and look at the full moon. I would go back inside and listen Gene Cernan and for that reason I told myself that would be me, I want to become an astronaut,” said Hernandez in an interview.

Jose told his father about his dreams, and after seeing the determination in his son, he gave him the “recipe” for success. “First of all, you need to decide what is it that you want to be in life,” his father told him, “after you know what you goal in life is, recognize how far you are from getting it. Then, you need to create a plan that will take you to your dreams. After that, you need to study, prepare yourself. Finally, work as hard as you work on the fields, put that dedication into your goal. If you mix all of that, you’ll have the recipe to succeed in life”. Although, Hernandez says he would add one more ingredient to that recipe: perseverance.

Jose received 11 rejection letters from NASA before he could become an astronaut. The first time he tried was five years after graduating from University of the Pacific with a B.S. in Electrical Engineering. After that first rejection letter, he knew he had to keep preparing himself. He would look at the ones that had been accepted, and see all the skills they had that he didn’t. He earned a M.S. in Electrical and Computer Engineering. He learned how to dive, he became a pilot and he even learned Russian. He says that after six years of trying, he threw the letter he received from the agency to the garbage. He was so frustrated. His wife picked the letter up, and said, are you going to eliminate yourself? That doesn’t sound like you. If you do this, you’ll live the rest of your life wondering what would’ve happened if you had kept going. You have to keep trying”.

Finally, the 12th letter came. Jose was speechless. In 2009 he made it to outer space. Needless to say, his story has inspired me, like so many others, not because of where he is right now, but because of where he started. A young boy that came from nothing, holding on to a dream that many would say was impossible. But his parents didn’t. He says that a big part of why he was able to accomplish his dreams, was because his parents never stopped him from dreaming.

“My parents didn’t have the economic resources. We come from a humble farm worker family, but they gave me something more valuable: they gave me the belief that I could accomplish my goal of being an astronaut”.

This reminds me of my post about Malala, when she said that parents should never chop their kids’ wings; they should encourage them to fly instead. I think that every person that has ever achieved a goal would be lying if they said they made it on their own. We all usually have someone supporting us, guiding us; we all need someone to believe in us, because there are times when we don’t even believe in ourselves.

I can take the next six key points from Jose’s story:

  • Success will never come easily
  • It doesn’t matter where you come from, if you’re rich or poor, you can always follow your dreams
  • All a kid needs to become successful in life is someone to make them believe in themselves
  • When you feel like you can’t keep going anymore, that’s when you need to push yourself even harder
  • Every single person that has been successful in life, was once a “loser” that never gave up
  • Jose’s father recipe for success: set your goal, recognize how far you are from your dreams, make a plan, prepare yourself, work as hard as you can and be consistent. Keep showing up, keep pushing, beat the odds, prove the haters wrong.

There are more than 18,000 people that have the minimum qualifications to become an astronaut, and from that 12 to 15 are selected. Jose, a kid that was raised in a family of immigrants and spent the majority of his childhood working in the fields, was selected after 12 years of rejection. Twelve years of working hard to better himself, to learn more and more. Twelve years of not giving up on his dreams. Remember it’s never too late. Chase your dreams, and don’t you ever give up.

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4 thoughts on “Who Inspires Me: Jose Hernandez, From Farmer to Astronaut

  1. Thank you soo much for sharing this story. It’s so empowering and makes me feel like I have SOME hope.
    About the long term plans though. I don’t make detailed plans. It’s just all simple aspirations.
    I have a definite plan that will come fruition in next August. Farther than that I have no idea!! XD
    What do you think??

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This story had the same effect on me! That’s why I wanted to share it, it makes me feel like I have excuses to go after my dreams.
      And about detailed plans, I don’t think they really work because life happens and it’s impossible to predict the future. But I think what Jose’s father meant was that it is necessary not to only know what you want to be in life, you also need to know how you could possibly get there, I’m not sure if it makes sense lol. I don’t have detailed plans either, but I do know where I have to start to get where I want to go. Good luck with your dreams and plans, never give up! (:

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you soo much D you are so thoughtful.
        Me?? I’m just a lonely traveler in a dark tunnel with people like Hernandez shining in the distance and people like you showing the way, fighting darkness of fear and doubt with the eternal light of hope. You are amazing. Wishing you all the best…Always!!!!!

        Liked by 1 person

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