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Astronaut visits local school, delivers soil to stars message
astronaut pic
Former astronaut Jose Hernandez gives an inspirational message of hope to hundreds of students at Dutcher Middle School. Hernandez flew in space in 2009, and is now running for the U.S. 10th Congressional seat. - photo by JONATHAN MCCORKELL / The Journal

National Aeronautics and Space Administration astronaut and U.S. Congressional candidate Jose Hernandez visited Denair Middle School to bring hundreds of students an inspirational message of hope and to deliver his father’s recipe for success.

Hernandez grew up in the Central Valley, the youngest son of migrant farm workers. Hernandez said he was raised picking cherries, cucumbers and peaches up and down the Valley in cities like Salida, Tracy and Modesto. He considers Stockton to be his hometown.

At just nine years old Hernandez knew he wanted to become an astronaut.

“I was nine years old watching the Apollo 17 mission and watched the last time man walked on the moon. Right then I knew I wanted to become an astronaut,” he said.

Hernandez’s mother and father encouraged him to reach for the stars to become an astronaut. “They wouldn’t say things like ‘I hope,’ or ‘if,’ but ‘when you become an astronaut,’ he explained.

Later, Hernandez said, his father shared with him a recipe for success in life, which Hernandez shared with DMS students. That recipe is: 1. Identify what you want to be in life; 2. Know where you’re at right now; 3. Create a roadmap for how to reach that goal; 4.Education; and 5. Work ethic.

Hernandez added a sixth ingredient to his father’s recipe — perseverance.

While applying to become a NASA astronaut he was rejected nearly a dozen times for various reasons like the lack of an advanced scuba certification. With each rejection he reached back to his father’s recipe.

“I already knew I wanted to be an astronaut, I knew where I was and I knew what I needed to do. If I need that scuba certification I went over to Monterrey Bay and earned it,” he said.

In 2004 he was finally accepted to Astronaut Candidate Training, and in 2008 he was selected as mission specialist and flight engineer for STS-128 — a Space Shuttle Discovery mission to the International Space Station. He launched into space on Aug. 28, 2009, and 14 days later on Sept. 11 the Discovery Shuttle landed at Edwards Air Force Base.

Prior to becoming an astronaut Hernandez obtained his Bachelor’s Degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of the Pacific and a Master’s Degree in Engineering from the University of California, Santa Barbara. He then served as an engineer at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory for 15 years. In his time at Livermore, Hernandez was recognized for his work helping develop the first full-field digital mammography imaging system, which has successfully increased early detection of breast cancer.

After his speech at DMS, Hernandez spoke about why it was important for him to reach out to youth in the Valley.

“I want the kids to see that I came from humble beginnings. I want them to walk away thinking ‘if he can do it so can I,” he said. “For parents and teachers, I want them to realize it’s not about how much money you put into a child but it’s about giving a child the hope and belief in the future and that they can reach for the stars.”