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From humble beginnings to high up in the skies

Jose Hernandez spent much of his childhood traveling with his family from Mexico to Southern California to pick strawberries and cucumbers before becoming an astronaut
Jose Hernandez spent much of his childhood traveling with his family from Mexico to Southern California to pick strawberries and cucumbers before becoming an astronaut

The man who went from farm worker to NASA astronaut spoke in Ventura County this week.

It was a dream he declared to his parents when he was just 10-years-old. "Dad. I want to be an astronaut."

It couldn’t have been further from the life Jose Hernandez was living with his family, as farmworkers who traveled to California nine months of the year to work.

"Two months in Southern California, two months in Central California and two months in Northern California - and then we would go back to my parents' home town in Mexico for three months and then repeat that process. And that's how I grew up," he told KCLU.

He recalls looking up at the moon, the night of the Apollo moon landing, and that same night, making his mind up that he wanted to be an astronaut and go into space.

"The best thing I could have done was to share that dream with my father. My mother and father only have a third-grade education but my father was wise enough to sit me down at the kitchen table," said Hernandez. "I guess he must have saw the determination of a ten-year-old boy. First of all he empowered me and validated the dream said, 'I think you can do it'".

His father gave him a road map for success, which included five pointers. His father told him to define his life's purpose, and to recognize how far he was from his goal.

"I said, we are farmworkers, you can't be farther than that."

His father told him to map the way to his destination, to go to college and to put the same effort into his studies and his work, that he put into picking fruits and vegetables at the weekends.

Hernandez set about achieving his dream.

"I was rejected by NASA not once, not twice or three times but 11 times. It wasn't until my 12th time that I was accepted," said Hernandez.

It’s a journey that did take him into space on Discovery on a mission to the International Space Station.

"You're so well trained for it that your muscle memory takes over, you have no time to be afraid," he said.

Hernandez's incredible story from farmworker to astronaut is being turned into an Amazon Prime movie.

"It's called A Million Miles Away, and they're filming today as we speak. The actor playing my role is Michael Pena, so we're pretty excited about that. It should drop into the Amazon platform late next year."

But most impressive is that despite having a job that had him flying so high, he managed to stay so grounded.

Hernandez spoke at Cal Lutheran's Latinos in STEM lecture this week, in Thousand Oaks.

Cal Lutheran is the parent of KCLU.

Caroline joined KCLU in October 2020. She won LA Press Club's Audio Journalist of the Year Award in 2022 and 2023.

Since joining the station she's won 7 Golden Mike Awards, 4 Los Angeles Press Club Awards and 2 National Arts & Entertainment Awards.

She started her broadcasting career in the UK, in both radio and television for BBC News, 95.8 Capital FM and Sky News and was awarded the Prince Philip Medal for her services to radio and journalism in 2007.

She has lived in California for ten years and is both an American and British citizen - and a very proud mom to her daughter, Elsie.