Former Migrant Worker Aims for the Moon
And performed well. Hernandez's sister is an accountant and his two brothers are a mechanic and a DOE engineer. Salvador Hernandez eventually ran his own business driving a fertilizer truck and is semi-retired in Stockton with Julia.
"My mom never learned English," Hernandez said, which is the chief reason he speaks fluent Spanish. And with two Mexican-born parents, Hernandez enjoys dual citizenship, to the delight of Mexico, whose embassy feted him here after his selection as an astronaut.
Hernandez went to Stockton's University of the Pacific on a scholarship, graduating with a degree in electrical engineering in 1984, and then earned a master's at the University of California at Santa Barbara.
He had joined Lawrence Livermore as a work-study undergraduate and was rehired when he returned from UCSB. But even as a young Energy Department up-and-comer, his ultimate goal was to become an astronaut.
"I remember [in 1981] when NASA chose [Costa Rican-born] Franklin Chang-Diaz as an astronaut, opening the road to Latinos," Hernandez said. "I said to myself that I had no excuse now. I can't say they don't let Latinos in."
Ten years later, "I decided to get serious," he said. He discussed his dream with Adelita, his fiancee, and told her that "she had to be very supportive, or there would be no wedding." He need not have worried, he said, as Adelita has "been behind me all the way."
Hernandez reached the interview stage of the astronaut selection process twice before clearing the final hurdle this year. By that time he had been working for three years at NASA, where, among other projects, he has supervised development of an on-board capability to repair the space shuttle's thermal insulation.
But his astronaut class may be the first in a generation never to fly the shuttle, scheduled to be phased out by 2010 and replaced by a "crew exploration vehicle," the spacecraft expected to implement President Bush's plan to send humans back to the moon and eventually to Mars.
"I don't expect to reach Mars during my life as an astronaut," Diaz said. "But I'm hoping one of us [in the Class of 2004] will be the next person to set foot on the moon."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
Jose M. Hernandez, a mission specialist candidate in NASA's 2004 astronaut class, traveled from Mexico to California as a child to work on several farms.
Jose M. Hernandez
Title: Mission specialist, NASA
Education: Bachelor's of science in electrical engineering, University of the Pacific; master's of science, electrical and computer engineering, University of California at Santa Barbara.
Age: 41. Family: Married; five children.
Career highlights: Chief, materials and processes branch, Johnson Space Center; engineer, Department of Energy, where he helped develop international agreements and analytical procedures for the disposal of 15 tons of weapons-grade, Russian uranium; materials scientist, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory -- helped develop the first full-field digital mammography imaging system for detecting breast cancer.
Pastimes: Running, scuba diving.
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