By Bob Highfill
Jose Hernandez dared to dream, and he let nothing stop him.
When he was a boy, Hernandez decided he wanted to be an astronaut after watching the Apollo 17 mission on television, a lofty goal for anyone, let alone the son of Mexican immigrants who moved from town to town wherever there was work in the fields. His family did not have much money.
To say the odds were stacked against him would be an understatement. Hernandez attended numerous schools growing up and did not speak English until he was 12 years old.
When Hernandez revealed his lifetime ambition, his father, Salvador Hernandez, didn’t dissuade his son. Rather, he believed his son could be anyone he wanted to be, someone who could touch the stars.
But reaching such heights would require a plan. People wish upon a star but wishes aren’t enough. Salvador passed onto Jose his five-ingredient recipe for success that motivated Jose and spawned a remarkable career.
The 58-year old Manteca resident and Franklin High School and University of the Pacific graduate, who calls Stockton his hometown, went into space as a NASA astronaut and now runs his own aerospace consulting company, Tierra Luna, and has launched communication satellites in Mexico. He’s penned three books and has another on the way. A movie about his life is in development with Netflix, filming could begin later this year.
In high demand as a motivational speaker, Hernandez returned to his agricultural roots several years ago and farms twenty acres of vineyards in Acampo. This year, he launched his own wine label, Tierra Luna Cellars. Tierra, “earth” in Spanish, and Luna, “moon,” is a fitting name for any endeavor in which he’s involved. And if that weren’t enough, Hernandez, husband to Adela Hernandez and father to their five grown children, has an eye on running for Congress, despite a failed attempt in 2012 at the urging of President Barack Obama that left a sour taste in his mouth for politics. But ever the dreamer, said Hernandez, “We need good leadership at the national level. That’s what tempts me to run again, because I think I can provide that leadership and make a difference.”
Hernandez could rest on his accomplishments, but the five-ingredient recipe still drives him to achieve and help others realize their full potential. His soon-to-be-released fourth book, “Reaching New Heights,” delves into Salvador’s recipe.
“I talk a lot about the mechanics of my father’s recipe to make it work for an individual for whatever goals they may have in life,” Hernandez said. “So, I hope that’s a book that people will find useful.”
Salvador might only have a third-grade education, but the 84-year-old Lodi resident is a wise man.
So, what is the five-ingredient recipe for reaching one’s maximum potential?
“It’s very simple but very powerful,” Jose Hernandez said.
First, decide what you want to be when you grow up and what do you want to be known for?
Second, realize how far you are from that goal.
When Jose told his dad that he wanted to be an astronaut, in his words they were living in a “dilapidated, two-bedroom rental in Stockton.” “I told my dad, ‘Hey, I can’t be any farther than this,” Hernandez said. “He kind of chuckled and said, ‘I’m glad you recognize that.’” Third, Salvador said his son must devise a roadmap. “You have to know the way to your destination,” Hernandez said. “You can’t go about it blindly.” Fourth, prepare for the challenge with the education needed to achieve the goal. And fifth, develop a good work ethic. ‘You mix that up and that’s the recipe to succeed,’” Hernandez said.
The son followed the father’s advice. Hernandez graduated from Franklin High School in Stockton and earned undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of the Pacific and the University of California, Santa Barbara.
From 1990 to 2001, Hernandez worked at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory in Livermore, where he and a colleague developed the first full-field digital mammography imaging system, which aids in the early detection of breast cancer.
In 2001, Hernandez joined the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. He was turned down 11 times over three years by NASA, but in May 2004 was selected to the 19th class of NASA astronauts. Hernandez completed Astronaut Candidate Training, an intense two-year program that included scientific and technical briefings, instruction in operating the Space Shuttle and International Space Stations, and water and wilderness survival training.
In May 2007, Hernandez served as an aquanaut aboard the Aquarius underwater laboratory, living and working underwater for 11 days. In July 2008, Hernandez was selected as a specialist on the STS-128 Space Shuttle mission, which launched on August 28, 2009. While in orbit, Hernandez became the first person to use the Spanish language in space while tweeting. The mission ended its 14-day journey on September 11, 2009, at Edwards Air Force Base.
Hernandez retired from NASA in 2011. Adela Hernandez closed her restaurant in Houston, Texas, the Tierra Luna Grill, and the family moved to be near Jose’s parents in Lodi, and so Jose could run for California’s 10th Congressional seat, a race he narrowly lost to Republican, Jeff Denham.
Hernandez added a sixth ingredient to his father’s recipe in his new book. Given he was rejected 11 times before he was accepted by NASA, the sixth ingredient shouldn’t be hard to guess: perseverance, a quality Hernandez immensely possesses.
“That’s basically what I always tell kids in every one of my conferences,” Hernandez said. “I give them this recipe because it has been so powerful for me, and I still use it to this day because it works.”
Hernandez’s wines are sold on the internet at https://tierralunacellars.com/.