Former astronaut Jose Hernandez speaks at TJC | TJC

Former astronaut Jose Hernandez speaks at TJC

Former astronaut Jose Hernandez spoke to a rapt crowd Tuesday night at the Center for Earth & Space Science Education at TJC.

Due to storms delaying his flight into DFW airport followed by a harrowing, stormy car ride to Tyler, Hernandez arrived at the event an hour late.

However, he more than made up for his tardiness with his inspirational story of growing up as a son of Mexican migrant farm workers in California and how, through education and perseverance, he overcame great odds to live out his dream to go into space.

He credited his parents for instilling a lifelong work ethic and willingness to keep trying even when hope seems lost.

“NASA rejected me 11 times before I was invited to be part of the 19th class of astronauts,” he said. “That’s what I try to tell our kids today. I tell them they can’t give up and to use the recipe my father gave me.”

That five-step recipe for success was what Hernandez’ father told him when, upon watching the Apollo 17 moon landing on television, 10-year-old Jose looked up at his dad and said, “That’s what I want to do. I want to be an astronaut."

Hernandez fully expected his father to try to tone down his dream, but he said, “It was a very empowering moment when he said, ‘I think you can do it.’”

He continued, “He looked at me and said, ‘Mijo, if you want to be an astronaut, you need to do these five things. I’m going to give you a recipe that, if you follow to the letter, I promise you will become an astronaut.’”

With that, his father imparted:

1) Decide what you want to be in life.
2) Recognize how far you are from your goal.
3) Draw yourself a roadmap where you are to where you want to go. That’s going to show you the way and keep you focused.
4) Education. You’ve got to go to college.
5) Put your effort in your school work; and then when you get your job, you put your effort there. Always, always give more than what people ask for.

“This was a man with a third-grade education, but he had the wisdom to give me that license that I could become an astronaut,” he said. “So that night, I went to bed so happy and excited that my parents thought I could do it. And I became one.”

A native of Stockton, California, Hernandez earned a Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering from the University of the Pacific and a Master of Science in electrical and computer engineering from the University of California - Santa Barbara.

From 1980 to 2004, he worked at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, where he helped to develop the first full-field digital mammography imaging system, which aids in the early detection of breast cancer.

On his 12th try into the NASA astronaut program, Hernandez was assigned to the crew of Space Shuttle Discovery mission STS-128. At age 41, he served as a mission specialist on a 14-day journey from Aug. 28 to Sept. 11, 2009.

During a question-and-answer session at the end of his talk, an unexpected connection between Hernandez and TJC was discovered when Tim Gill, workforce IT department chair and professor, brought up the 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia explosion and noted that students in the TJC surveying and mapping department assisted with gathering and documenting shuttle debris.

At the time, Hernandez was working at NASA, in charge of the materials and processes branch with 40 engineers under his charge.

“We did all the failure analysis of the materials,” he said. “So, in 2003, when I was the chief of the branch office, we had that accident, and I was in North and East Texas with my colleagues, picking up pieces of Columbia. We put an outline of the shuttle in a hangar and put the pieces where they belonged and did the forensics testing to find the root cause of the accident.”


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