What’s Your Excuse? Becoming an Astronaut Was Possible for This Son of Migrant Farm Workers

becoming an astronaut

Photo by Noozhawk

Have you ever dreamt of becoming an astronaut? I, for one, have dreamt of going into space ever since I was about 10 years old. Unfortunately, that’s probably the only thing I have in common with Jose Moreno Hernandez — one of the few migrant astronauts the US have ever sent into space.

Unlike me, Hernandez made that dream a reality — and he did it against incredible odds. His story is a testimony to the rest of us that humans can achieve great things even if their starting line in life is set a few miles back.

You probably already know this but becoming an astronaut is like…really hard.

On paper, almost anyone can become an astronaut. All you need is to obtain a bachelor’s degree in a STEM subject and have at least three years of subject-related experience. Or have at least 1,000 hours of pilot-in-command time in jet aircraft. Yet, even if in theory your high school chemistry teacher has a shot at becoming one, most astronauts have at least a master’s degree or a Ph.D. in their field. Some, like Story Musgrave, have degrees even way beyond that.

Still, for any given applicant, the odds of being selected are minuscule, regardless of his or her qualifications. To be fair, Hernandez was relatively lucky he didn’t apply last year when NASA received the all-time record of 18,300 applications. In 2004, “only” 2882 people applied and he got to be one of the seven civilian specialists who made the cut.

Becoming an astronaut is even harder when you’re born as a son of migrant Mexican farm workers.

Hernandez’s childhood was so rough he even hated summer vacations. While other children looked forward to summer, he had to work seven days a week in the fields.

Moreover, his education was constantly interrupted by his family having to follow the changing crops. For this reason, Hernandez didn’t become fluent in English until he was 12. Then his American teachers convinced his parents this lifestyle was hurting their education. His family finally settled down for good — in Stockton, California.

But even then, they had to live in a barrio, as there was nowhere else they could afford to live. So Hernandez’s life changed but not exactly for the better. Out of his four childhood friends from that area, one committed suicide, another ended up out on the streets and the other one overdosed on drugs.

becoming an astronaut

Wherever you are in life, you can always dream big and try to make those dreams a reality!  

When he was 10, Hernandez watched the Apollo 17 moon landing on TV. It was the last mission to the moon. That’s when he began dreaming of going into space. Fortunately, he was lucky enough to have a family that supported him in achieving his dream.

First, his parents. It was never a question if he was going to go to college. It was about when. In 1984, Hernandez earned a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from the University of the Pacific. Two years later he could also boast an M.S. in the same field from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Gradually, he began to meet the requirements for being an astronaut!

Second, his wife. After sixth year that NASA rejected him, he was going to stop trying. His wife persuaded him not to give up.

Becoming an astronaut is easy when you never give up.

People get rejected twice, on average, before they get picked. If they reject you six times, you’ll probably never make it among the lucky few. Hernandez was rejected from NASA’s astronaut program eleven times! The average age of new astronauts is 34. He was 41 when he became one.

In 2001, he joined the Johnson Space Centre in Houston, Texas. NASA finally selected him for astronaut training in May 2004. In February 2006 he completed Astronaut Candidate Training that included scientific and technical briefings, intensive instruction in Shuttle and International Space Stations systems, physiological training, T-38 flight training, and water and wilderness survival training.

In 2009, Hernandez was finally a part of a 14-day mission to finish construction of the International Space Station. He finally became an astronaut. Mission accomplished.

If you’re about to give up on your dream because it seems too unrealistic or grandiose, don’t do it. Indeed, sometimes your goals can seem too distant or well nigh impossible to achieve. But the life story of Jose Hernandez proves that you can surmount even the greatest of heights if you take enough small steps. What are you still waiting for? Pick a direction and start walking!

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