Rising Above: José Hernández's Story Ignites Passion at Riverside City College

May 10

On May 9, Riverside City College (RCC) welcomed a remarkable individual whose life story reads like a script from a Hollywood movie. José M. Hernández, President and CEO of Tierra Luna Engineering, LLC, and former NASA Astronaut, graced the stage to share his awe-inspiring journey from humble beginnings to the outer reaches of space. The auditorium was packed to the brim, with eager students hanging on his every word, ready to absorb the wisdom and determination that propelled him to greatness.

Hernández's odyssey began in the fields of California's agricultural heartland, where he worked alongside his family as migrant farmworkers. Born into a world of humble means, he spent his childhood shuttling between the United States and Mexico, a lifestyle dictated by the seasonal rhythms of the harvest. Yet, amidst the rows of crops and the scorching sun, a dream took root in young José's heart—a dream of reaching for the stars.

Fueling his ambition were the historic trips of space exploration that captivated the world's imagination. Inspired by the iconic moonwalk mission of Apollo 17 and the stirring commentary of Walter Cronkite, Hernández knew from the tender age of 10 that he wanted to soar among the stars.

His path to NASA was not paved with silver spoons but with sweat, determination, and an unyielding belief in the power of education. Despite facing the odds, Hernández pursued his passion for science and engineering. His journey took him from the fields of Stockton to the halls of the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he earned a Master of Science degree in Electronic Engineering, Signals, and Systems.

But Hernández's story didn't end there. With perseverance, he carved out a career at NASA's Johnson Space Center, where he was an astronaut and part of space exploration. Selected as part of the 19th class of astronauts in 2004, he soared aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery as a mission specialist on the STS-128 mission.

During his tenure at NASA, Hernández's contributions extended beyond the confines of the spacecraft. He oversaw the transfer of thousands of pounds of equipment between the shuttle and the International Space Station, played a pivotal role in robotics operations, and traversed over 5.7 million miles of celestial expanse in under two weeks.

Through his foundation, The José Hernández Reaching for the Stars Foundation, he continues to inspire the next generation of scientists, engineers, and dreamers, particularly in his beloved Central Valley.

As Hernández stood before the eager audience at RCC, his words resonated with the promise of possibility and the potential within each of us. His message was clear: no dream is too audacious, no obstacle too daunting, for those who dare to reach for the stars.

In addition to captivating the audience with his incredible journey, José Hernández went above and beyond during his visit to Riverside City College. Recognizing the importance of connecting with students from diverse backgrounds and disciplines, he took the time to meet with the Veterans Resource Center students and STEM students for additional Q&A sessions and photo opportunities.

His genuine commitment to engaging with the RCC students showed as he patiently answered their questions, shared insights from his experiences, and encouraged them to pursue their passions. Whether discussing the intricacies of space exploration or offering words of encouragement to aspiring engineers, Hernández made sure that each student felt valued and heard.

RCC is thankful to José Hernández for the imprint he left with so many participants.