José Hernández

INTERVIEW: Former Astronaut José Hernández Shares ‘Five-Ingredient Recipe’ That Got Him to Space

Art by Stephany Torres. Photo courtesy of José Hernández.

For most of his life, former NASA astronaut José Hernández has lived by a set of directives that have guided him to success. Labeled as his “five-ingredient recipe,” they were shared with him by his father who, along with his mother and the rest of the family, sustained themselves as migrant farmworkers when he was a child.

The ingredients are: Define your purpose in life; recognize how far you are; buy yourself a roadmap so you know how to get there; prepare yourself according to the challenge; and work hard.

Hernández, who is of Mexican descent, likes to say that he added a sixth ingredient to the mix: perseverance. The multilayered doctrine is something he hopes comes across clearly in Prime Video’s A Million Miles Away, a biopic that follows Hernández’s journey, which took him from the fields of Southern California to the International Space Station as a mission specialist with NASA in 2009.

José Hernández in space
Courtesy of José Hernández
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“That message was very important to me to get out there because it’s a good tool for everybody,” Hernández, 61, told Remezcla during a recent interview. “It’s so simple, yet so powerful.”

Directed by Alejandra Márquez Abella, A Million Miles Away stars Michael Peña (End of Watch) as Hernández, an engineer who was selected for NASA’s Astronaut Candidate Training program after being turned down 11 times. It’s evident in the film that one of Hernández’s character strengths is perseverance, but he’s the first to admit that his dream to go into space would not have been realized without the sacrifice of his family, especially his wife Adela. Rosa Salazar (Alita: Battle Angel) portrays her in the film.

“I got help from a lot of people to get to NASA,” Hernández said. “I wanted people to know that you need that moral support behind you, so don’t be afraid to accept it.”

José Hernández with his family
Courtesy of José Hernández
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Hernández also wants viewers to know that there’s nothing wrong with doubting yourself every so often. He had plenty of reservations each time he submitted a new application to NASA. What he realized every time he was rejected was that each defeat only made him want it more.

“We all deal with our imposter syndrome and the monsters inside of us, [but] I think it’s only natural, especially when you’re doing something you’ve never done before,” he said. “I think it’s healthy to have those doubts because it forces you to work harder.”

Hernández has seen others put in that same kind of hard work over the years to reach space. One of those individuals is Katya Echazarreta, who became the first-ever Mexican-born woman to go to space when she traveled on a Blue Origin rocket in 2022. Hernández was a member of the board who selected Echazarreta as a passenger.

José Hernández standing in front of crowd
Courtesy of José Hernández
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“I’m very proud of her, and I’m so glad that we selected her,” he said. “I don’t mind taking a little credit for her going into space.”

Now, 14 years after his own space flight, Hernández continues to look back fondly on his one-in-a-lifetime experience. When asked to describe what he saw when he looked out the window into the cosmos, it was like he was telling the story for the first time.  

“In one window, you’ve got our beautiful Earth,” Hernández said. “Then, on the opposite side, you’ve got a window to the universe. When you look at the Earth again, you think, ‘Oh, my gosh. We’re just a small speck of dust in the grand scheme of things.’”

A Million Miles Away is available now on Amazon Prime.