No matter the obstacle on his path, José Hernández's "out-of-this-world" dream turned him into an inspiration for his San Joaquin County community and the nation.
One walk through the Children's Museum of Stockton, a specific spot within it is bound to catch your eye: the Destination: Space exhibit. This spot of the museum is filled with amazing details and images from NASA's space explorations—and a central figure in San Joaquin County's connection to space. That figure is one of Stockton's own: astronaut José Hernández.
José Hernández was born in French Camp, but would grow to call Stockton his home. An immigrant son, José would spend half of the year in the US and half in La Piedad, Michoacán, Mexico. As a young child, he worked alongside his parents and other immigrant farmworkers throughout the fields of California. Unable to speak English until he reached the age of 12, José’s first memory of space was adjusting the family television as they prepared to watch the Apollo 17 mission in 1972. Unbeknownst to him at the time, that moment was a sign of what his future would hold.
José participated in the Upward Bound college preparatory program in school and graduated from Franklin High School. In college, he was in the Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement (MESA) program, designed to support educationally-disadvantaged students in attaining 4-year degrees in STEM fields. José would eventually earn a degree in Electrical Engineering from University of the Pacific in 1984, followed by a Masters in electrical & computer engineering from UC Santa Barbara.
In 2001, José joined the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas and after 3 years, was selected for the NASA astronaut training program. After years of training, which included flight training, water & wilderness survival, shuttle launch & landing preparations, and spending days in an underwater laboratory, José was finally selected as a mission specialist on the STS-128 mission—a 14-day journey in orbit studying the physics & chemistry of microgravity. During this mission, José became the first person to use the Spanish language in space, which he did while tweeting.
After sailing among the stars, José ran for Congress, became an advocate for immigration reform, and joined the Board of Directors for SpaceUnited, a nonprofit humanitarian space agency. He now owns a 20-acre vineyard near Lodi, and in 2021 began bottling wine under the name Tierra Luna Cellars, which is Spanish for Earth Moon Cellars.
From the son of immigrant workers to a navigator through space, José has remained true to the hometown that helped him carve his path. José Hernández is one incredible example of what it means to be StocktonTrue…
Quick fun fact: José’s life will be hitting the big screen, as pre-production is currently being done on a biopic, with Academy Award nominee Michael Peña slated to portray José in the film.