Astronaut José Hernández stresses big dreams, perseverance in LBJ Distinguished Lecture

Kelly Raaz | September 26, 2018

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Former astronaut José Hernández delivered the Lyndon Baines Johnson Distinguished Lecture September 25th.

Former NASA astronaut José Hernández delivered the Lyndon Baines Johnson Distinguished Lecture at Texas State University Tuesday to a sold-out crowd in Evans Auditorium. The lecture was in conjunction with the 2018-2019 university-wide Common Experience academic theme: Innovation. 

Hernández began the lecture with his father’s most valuable advice: “It’s OK to dream big.”  Recalling his past hardships and the story of growing up in a migrant farming family, audience members heard about the power of empowerment and his theme of  “never stop reaching for the stars.” 

Born  in 1962 in French Camp, California, to Mexican immigrant parents who worked as migrant laborers, Hernandez says  the family traveled from Mexico to California picking crops along the way. Hernández said he was 12 years old before he spoke English. 

Eventually the family settled in Stockton, California, where young José enjoyed math and science in school. He first began dreaming of going into space after watching the Apollo 17 moon landing. Hernandez told the audience that his father passed along five steps to reaching his goal:   

  1. Decide what you want to do in life. What is your passion?
  2. Recognize how far you are from your goal.
  3. Create a growth map showing the steps necessary to reach the goal. It will keep you focused and on the path towards success.
  4. Prepare yourself: get an education and learn all necessary requirements that goal entails. 
  5. Always put forth more effort than people expect of you and distinguish yourself from your competition in a positive way.

Hernández explained that any goal is within reach by preparing and working hard, but added one more step to his father’s advice: Persevere. 

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Hernández was rejected 11 times before being selected for the astronaut training program.

Hernández joined the Johnson Space Center as a NASA materials research engineer in 2001 and was selected as a member of the 19th class of NASA astronauts in 2004. In 2009, he served aboard the STS-128 Discovery as mission specialist and was the first person to tweet bilingually from space. The Discovery traveled more than 5.7 million miles in 14 days with the mission to finish construction on the International Space Station. In addition to his flight engineer duties, Hernández was also one of two principal robotic arm operators.

Hernández previously spent more than 15 years at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), where he co-developed the first full-field digital mammography system for the earlier detection of breast cancer—thus opening a new area of research called computer-aided diagnosis—and was recognized by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for this important contribution.

Hernández is a former candidate for U.S. Congress and the author of several books, including his autobiography, Reaching for the Stars, and the children’s version, The Boy Who Touched the Stars. Today, he works as a consultant within the company he founded in 2012, Tierra Luna Engineering. 

Hernández has received numerous awards and honors, including two NASA Service Awards, the Society of Mexican America Engineers and Scientists “Medalla de Ora,” Upward Bound National TriO Achiever Award, and seven honorary doctorate degrees.  As a former Upward Bound student,  Hernández was pleased to see Texas State University Upward Bound participants in attendance. “By following these steps, you will reach your goals and fulfill your dreams,” he promised, receiving a standing ovation from the audience.

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For more information, contact University Communications:

Jayme Blaschke, 512-245-2555

Sandy Pantlik, 512-245-2922