Astronaut visits area summer school students

On June 14, Dr. Barbara Mundy, Program Administrator for Federal Programs, organized an event for several LaBelle area summer school students and presented them with a surprise of a lifetime. Astronaut Jose M. Hernandez gave an amazing presentation that both motivated and educated this group of children and their teachers. His inspiring story captivated his young audience, and hopefully sparked a ray of hope for many of these students who often have difficult challenges ahead of them.

Astronaut Jose Hernandez center, visits LaBelle area summer school students. (Caloosa Belle/Amanda Nelson)

Jose M. Hernandez was born in French Camp, CA, but considers Stockton, CA his home. Hernandez’s parents were Mexican migrant farm workers, which meant that his education was continually interrupted as his family migrated from location to location to work in various crops. Their time traveling was not a fun vacation – it was hard work. Life was tough, but Hernandez and his family did not give up.

Hernandez’s childhood was spent in both the United States and Mexico. While living and working in Mexico, he and his siblings ‘home schooled’ themselves with school work sent with them from their American teachers. Due to the constant interruptions in his education, he did not become fluent in English until he was 12 years old. After one of Hernandez’s teachers pleaded with his family to consider staying in California so that their children could receive a thorough education, he and his siblings were finally able to flourish academically and socially.

While in California, Hernandez was full of determination and continued to work very hard in school. At the young age of ten he was enjoying television time with his family. After watching Apollo 17 Commander Gene Cernan walk on the moon (the last person to do so), Hernandez quickly decided that he was going to become an astronaut as well and be involved in the space program. Not one to throw in the towel, he continued to persevere. He earned his diploma from high school, and then graduated from college with an undergraduate degree in Electrical Engineering and a Master’s degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Hernandez applied for astronaut training with NASA, and received a rejection letter eleven times. Again, his perseverance prevailed, and finally on his twelfth attempt in May 2004, he was selected to join the program. He completed the Astronaut Candidate Training in February 2006. Once his initial training was finished, he assisted with shuttle launches and landings until he could achieve his dream of flying in space.

According to Wikipedia, Hernandez continued to work several technical assignments until he was finally chosen on July 15, 2008 as a mission specialist on the STS-128 mission, which launched on August 28, 2009. Hernandez also became the first person to use the Spanish language in space while tweeting.

Not only has Hernandez traveled into space as the mission specialist to the International Space Station, he now runs his own foundation, Reaching for the Stars. This organization’s goal is to get youth in central California interested in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields. It also provides first-generation high school seniors with scholarships.

The story of Jose M. Hernandez is truly heartwarming and inspiring – far too long to write about in a short article. Some might call his journey through life too difficult, but in his eyes there is no such thing. He has shown by example that determination and perseverance are a huge part of achieving success.

Hernandez can be followed on Facebook and Twitter. He has also published a book called “Reaching for the Stars: The Inspiring Story of a Migrant Farmworker Turned Astronaut”, and is in the works of publishing a children’s book in the near future.

Amanda can be reached at cbnews@newszap.com

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