Jose Hernandez: Joining NASA 'like being a superhero'

Jose Hernandez is the subject of the film "A Million Miles Away." File Photo by Joe Marino-Bill Cantrell/UPI
1 of 6 | Jose Hernandez is the subject of the film "A Million Miles Away." File Photo by Joe Marino-Bill Cantrell/UPI | License Photo

LOS ANGELES, Sept. 15 (UPI) -- Former NASA astronaut Jose Hernandez said the film about his journey, A Million Miles Away, premiering Friday on Prime Video, is the latest in a series of opportunities that followed his space career.

Hernandez is the only one-time migrant farmworker to make it through NASA's program -- he was turned down 11 times before that -- and he served on a nearly 14-day, space shuttle Discovery mission in 2009, his only flight.


"I noticed all the media attention on me," Hernandez told UPI in a recent Zoom interview. "That made me realize that it's almost like being a superhero. You've got this newfound super power that people are interested in their story."

Hernandez said he wanted to use the interest in his story "to have a positive impact in communities." After writing his autobiography, on which the film is based, he also adapted his story as a children's book and middle reader book.


"The American dream is alive and well if you're willing to work hard, educate yourself and plan accordingly," Hernandez said. "Most important of all, have the perseverance of never giving up on yourself."

Michael Peña plays Hernandez in the film, which depicts how the Hernandez family came to the United States from Mexico to pick grapes and follow the crops wherever work was available.

Hernandez received his bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering from University of the Pacific in 1984, and his master of science degree in electrical and computer engineering from the University of California-Santa Barbara two years later..

While working at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory as an engineer, Hernandez sent applications to NASA. The film shows that Herandez's wife, Adela (Rosa Salazar) encouraged him to keep applying, but also find out what skills the other applicants had.

"That's when I took a deep dive into everybody's curriculum and found out they were pilots, a scuba diver, learned three languages, were elite athletes," Hernandez said.

Hernandez trained in scuba diving, flying and learned Russian so he'd be qualified to work on the International Space Station. The film shows how he brought his final application to NASA's Houston office in person, where an astronaut and flight controller Frederick Sturckow (Garret Dillahunt) met him.


Hernandez confirmed that the face time sealed the deal. What the movie does not show is that Hernandez made the visit to NASA while on a layover during a Lawrence Livermore business trip.

"They got to know me and they said, 'Well, maybe we should invite him for a week-long interview,'" Hernandez said. "That's what got my foot in the door."

The film also shows Hernandez going through the hardships of NASA training to finally make it on the shuttle mission.

Hernandez said seeing the Earth from space, he noticed there were no natural borders between the United States and its neighbors, noting, "Borders are human-made concepts designed to separate us -- and how sad because from my perspective up there, we're just one."

The film concludes with Discovery docking with the International Space Station. Hernandez elaborated on the roughly two weeks he spent on board.

"Every five minutes is spoken for," Hernandez said. "You think you have 10 minutes to just play around? No, they'll find something for you to do."

The film also shows how Hernandez made almost as many attempts to win Adela's family's approval as he sent applications to NASA. Hernandez said his courtship actually was harder.


The retired astronaut said the film showed Adela's cousins putting pressure on him. In real life, Adela had uncles, not cousins, who were even more intimidating.

"They gave me the third degree before the future father-in-law showed up," Hernandez said.

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