By Rachel Ponder, APG NewsOctober 27, 2011
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. - It wasn't a military lifestyle that caused Jose Hernandez to
move from city to city every few months. It was his hardscrabble life as the child of migrant
During an Oct. 13 Hispanic American Heritage Month observance at the post theater, Hernandez recalled, with hindsight's laughter, the harsh realities of life in and out of schools as he helped his parents and siblings earn a meager living in farms and fields up and down the West Coast.
A rapt audience listened as the former NASA astronaut and first generation Mexican-American told the story about the day that he was hoeing a row of sugar beets in a field near Stockton,
Calif. and heard on his transistor radio that Franklin Chang-Diaz had been selected for the Astronaut Corps.
Chang-Diaz was the first Hispanic-American that had been chosen to travel into space. This inspired Hernandez, a senior in high school at the time, to dreamof flying in space.
Hernandez said despite his humble beginnings, his parents encouraged him to follow his dreams. He said even with a third-grade education, his parents had high expectations for their children. They told him that achievements come through hard work.
"My mom would challenge us; she would see a man and a suit and say 'some day that will be you,'" he said, directing his attention to the Freestate Challenge Academy students who attended the event. "She did not want us to work in a field for the rest of our lives. We had a responsibility to get an education and to make something of ourselves, and that was a very powerful lesson for us."
Hernandez said he struggled to learn English, but excelled in math and science.
"One plus one equals two in any language," he said.
In his quest to achieve his dream of becoming an astronaut, Hernandez applied to NASA 11 times before being accepted as a candidate in 2004.
"During those 11 years I built my skills to make myself more valuable and gained more experience," he said. "I would study who would get selected and what their background was." And the payoff was worth it.
"Blast off was an experience second to none," he said.
Hernandez was assigned to the STS-128 Discovery from Aug. 28 to Sept. 11, 2009. While at the orbital outpost, the STS-128 crew rotated an expedition crewmember, attached the Leonardo Multi-Purpose Logistics Module, and transferred over 18,000 pounds of supplies and equipment to the station.
The mission was accomplished in 217 orbits of the earth, traveling 5.7 million miles in 332 hours and 53 minutes, and returned safely to land at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.
After Hernandez's speech, members of the Maryland Salsa Jam performed traditional Latin dances, including the cha-chacha, merengue and bachata.
"The Hispanic Heritage Month Observance is probably the best way for us to show and display our culture in different aspects," said Jesus Obregon, a Hispanic- American and owner of Maryland Salsa Jam, a dance studio in Baltimore. "We tell people about our culture through song, food, dance and inspirational stories."
After the program attendees were treated to samplings of traditional Hispanic food and displays that highlighted the clothing, art and history of Hispanic cultures.
Also participating in the program was Bobbi Ahearn of the Army Developmental Test Command, who opened the program by singing the national anthem. Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Jimmy Davis from the 20th Support Command (CBRNE) gave the invocation.
Col. Orlando Ortiz, APG Garrison and deputy installation commander, gave opening remarks.