July 21, 2024

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How an astronaut’s experience as a migrant worker helped him fly in space

How an astronaut’s experience as a migrant worker helped him fly in space


More than a decade after becoming the first former migrant worker to fly into space as a NASA astronaut, Jose Hernandez achieved another milestone this month.

The film about his amazing journey from the fields of California to the International Space Station first appeared as Most watched movies on Amazon Prime And it was Earning praise from critics and audiences Since its launch on September 15.

Actor Michael Peña plays Hernandez in A Million Miles Away, which tells the story of a boy who grew up picking cucumbers and cherries but kept his eyes focused on the stars.

Hernandez, an engineer, made history aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery in 2009, the first shuttle mission to send two Latino astronauts into space.

“Who better to leave this planet and dive into the unknown than a migrant farm worker?” Hernandez says in the film, quoting his cousin at a press conference as he prepares to fly that mission.

Hernandez’s story has made headlines from the moment NASA selected him for the astronaut course in 2004. He and his family members have spoken with CNN and CNN affiliates several times over the years, from the days of his first space flight to the release of the highly anticipated film. . Here’s a look at what we learned.

For years, Hernandez grew up in a family of migrant workers who followed the harvest back and forth from California and Mexico. His parents were originally from the Mexican state of Michoacán. Hernandez was born in California.

“While others were looking forward to summer vacation, I was hating it,” Hernandez said He told CNN in 2016. “Summer vacation means working seven days a week in the fields.”

Daniel Daza/Prime

“A Million Miles Away” depicts Hernandez helping his family harvest fruits and vegetables and the frustrations he felt at the time.

In a 2009 CNN interview, his father, Salvador Hernandez, described conversations he had with his children after finishing a hard day’s work.

“I would sit them in the back seat of the car. They were all very dusty. I would tell them that they better take school seriously because if they didn’t, they would be working all the time in the fields. … This will be their future.”

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It’s a scene that viewers of the film will recognize, as it was shot almost verbatim by actor Julio César Cedillo.

Hernandez says his dream of becoming an astronaut began after he watched Apollo 17 land on the moon in 1972, holding up the rabbit-ear antenna to receive it on his family’s black-and-white television. When he shared his dream, Hernandez says his father gave him important advice.

“He had the good sense to sit me in the kitchen and give me a five-ingredient recipe,” Hernandez said He told CNN en Español in 2020.

In the film, director Alejandra Márquez Abella uses these five components as chapters in her telling of Hernandez’s story:

• Find your goal
• Know how far you are
• Drawing a road map
• If you don’t know how, learn
• When you think you have succeeded, you may have to work harder

With these steps in mind, Hernandez did everything he could to continue his education. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in engineering and went on to work for 15 years at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

But his goal of becoming a NASA astronaut remained elusive.

The film depicts Hernandez’s perseverance when the space agency rejected Hernandez’s astronaut applications 11 times before he was selected for the program in 2004. The film shows the critical role Hernandez’s family played in supporting him along the way.

In the film, actress Rosa Salazar portrays Hernandez’s wife, Adela, with emotional courage as someone who holds her husband accountable and pushes him not to give up.

Daniel Daza/Prime

In “A Million Miles Away,” Michael Peña and Rosa Salazar portray Hernandez and his wife Adela and show the important role their relationship played in helping him achieve his dreams.

in Interview with CNN in 2016Hernandez described how important Adela was to his journey.

“The sixth year that NASA rejected me, I put together a rejection letter and threw it on the bedroom floor. I was going to stop trying, but she talked me out of it,” Hernandez said.

His wife’s words: “Let NASA be the one to exclude you. Don’t deprive yourself.”

The husband and wife’s determination paid off when Hernandez became an astronaut against the odds.

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“I was 41 when I became an astronaut,” Hernandez said. “The average age of new astronauts is 34 years.”

In an interview with Televisa after his return from space, Hernandez spoke out A comment that was controversial at the timesays L Mexican television network that he hopes the Obama administration will pass comprehensive immigration reform. He pointed out that when looking at Earth from outer space, there are no limits.

His comments prompted NASA to take its own position. In a statement issued to the media, NASA said Hernandez’s opinions were his own and did not represent the space agency. The statement added that Hernandez has every right to express his personal opinions.


This 2009 NASA photo shows Hernandez working aboard the International Space Station.

Hernandez has repeated his initial point over the years.

“When I went to the window, and did my best impression of Superman as we floated over North America, I could see Canada, the United States and Mexico. What I thought was so beautiful was that you couldn’t tell where Canada ended,” Hernandez told CNN en Español in 2020. And the United States began, or where the United States ended and Mexico began.”

“Which means, in my view, that down below we were all one. How sad that humans invented the concept of borders to divide us.”

in A recent interview with CNN en EspañolHe said he hopes future officials will create a more welcoming environment for immigrants.

“I would like to ask them to be more tolerant and make the environment better for our migrants,” he said. “Because everything now is anti-immigrant in our country.”

Hernandez recently spoke to CNN en Español about what it was like to see his life turned into a movie.

The former astronaut appears on screen to help Peña get dressed as he heads into space. But he said his role in the film went beyond that appearance.

Steve Okert/Houston Chronicle/AP

Hernandez discusses his upcoming space shuttle flight in a 2008 interview.

“I was involved in the process because Alejandra took the time to get to know our family. When she was writing the script, she would send it to me and I would give her feedback,” Hernandez said. “Some got involved and others couldn’t because of the time. It’s hard to fit an entire life into two hours, isn’t it? So sometimes it is not included. But she did a great job of putting the story together and bringing it to the screen.

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The film is based on Hernandez’s 2012 memoir, “Reaching for the Stars: The Inspiring Story of a Migrant Farmworker-turned-Astronaut.” Hernandez says he hopes bringing the story to the screen will help a larger audience.

“It is a great opportunity to motivate those who watch the film to maximize their potential and realize any dream they have,” he told CNN en Español.

In 2009, shortly after his return from space, Hernandez told CNN en Español that fame had not changed him.

“I’m still the same person. Family keeps your feet firmly on the ground,” he said. “I remain a father and husband and take out the trash every Thursday. “I have homework that I need to complete.”

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Space Shuttle Discovery crew members and mission specialists Nicole Stott, Christer Voglisang, Jose Hernandez, and Patrick Forrester with pilot Kevin Ford as they prepare to head to the launch pad from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on August 28, 2009.

These days, when he’s not doing those chores, promoting the new movie, working as an aerospace engineering consultant, or telling his story as a motivational speaker, the 61-year-old sometimes finds himself back in the fields working alongside his father.

“I started out farming, and here I am farming, albeit under different circumstances now, on my own terms now, and I really enjoy it,” Hernandez said. CNN affiliate KCRA said In a recent interview.

This time, they’re working in California at a winery they own together.

On its website, Tierra Luna Cellars It is described as Hernandez’s “next big dream”, with a range of wines inspired by the constellations he has seen from space.

CNN en Español’s Eduardo Ciraldi and CNN’s Octavio Blanco contributed to this report.