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Father & Daughter

Astronaut's Daughter
Vanessa interviews her father José about his childhood as the son of migrant farm workers from Mexico all the way to spending two weeks in space.
Show transcript
00:00
Hi, everyone.
00:00
My name is Vanessa Hernandez and welcome to my podcast astronauts
00:04
daughter.
00:05
This is our first ever episode and we have a very special guest
00:09
My dad Jose Hernandez, who is a former NASA astronaut.
00:12
He inspired this entire podcast.
00:14
So I'm really excited to talk about his story and how inspiring
00:18
it is and I hope you enjoy it too.
00:37
All right, let's get started.
00:39
I'm so excited.
00:40
Boppy.
00:41
Welcome to my podcast astronaut's daughter.
00:44
I'm so excited.
00:45
You're here.
00:46
Are you excited?
00:47
I am very excited, but as a parent, I'm very proud.
00:52
Uh I'm not gonna make me cry.
00:54
No, I mean, and, and very honored because, because I'm your
00:59
first guest.
01:00
You are.
01:00
I'm just to give everyone a little bit of background just on
01:03
us as you know, father, daughter.
01:06
And how kind of we got our start.
01:07
I actually started on Tik Tok and when I started on tiktok,
01:11
you had no idea what the platform was, what you were signing
01:15
up for.
01:16
But it was, I think Pink quarantine where I wanted to just make
01:20
goofy videos with you and introduce you and kind of use your
01:25
story to share with others and it just really hit and kind of
01:29
took off and it was a great way to share one year story and two
01:33
just to show our relationship and how lighthearted and goofy
01:37
it really is.
01:38
And so it kind of built up to this and now we're here on this podcast
01:42
and I'm really excited to just kind of deep dive into your story
01:46
more because the thing about tiktok, it's so fast and it's
01:50
so quick and the span of people's attention attention spans
01:55
are so short and so we can only get them like quickly.
01:59
Um So having a platform like this to really get into the nitty
02:04
gritty of your story of becoming an astronaut from your background
02:08
And you know, how you got there from A to B you know, you know
02:12
don't, don't sell yourself short because uh because you're
02:16
very surgical with your tiktok messaging.
02:18
So I always uh play, play a good, you know, I, I am a good sports
02:22
fan and uh and so yeah, I'll do whatever.
02:24
Yeah, it's really fun and I love how you're a good sport about
02:27
it because you will never say no an idea I have.
02:29
So I kind of take advantage of that just a little bit to kind
02:32
of push your buttons.
02:33
But um going back to the podcast and you know why we're here
02:37
Um Do you want to give a little bit of background of, you know
02:40
who you are what you do, what you're most known for, obviously
02:44
And, you know, we'll just get into it.
02:46
Absolutely.
02:46
Well, you know, I'm first generation, as, you know, Mexican
02:51
American.
02:52
My parents came from Mexico and there's four of us in our family
02:56
You know, you have two uncles and an aunt and half of us were
03:00
born here and half in Mexico.
03:02
And that was because we used to spend about nine months here
03:04
in California and uh and three months in Mexico when my mom
03:09
and dad got married, that's what they would do.
03:11
They would go back to their hometown for three months.
03:12
And I just happened to be uh born in August, which is uh harvest
03:16
months.
03:17
So I was born in California and, and uh ever since I was 10 years
03:20
old, I want to be an astronaut because I remember seeing the
03:23
very last Apollo mission, Apollo 17.
03:25
It was in December and you could picture a 10 year old boy holding
03:29
on to rabbit ear antennas watching a black and white TV.
03:33
Uh And watching astronaut Gene Cernan wanna be uh walking
03:37
on the moon and I said I wanna be like him and, and I did it and
03:41
I did it and, and, and, and now we're here and then Twitter was
03:46
also coming around because I flew in 2009.
03:48
And so Twitter was around uh a few missions before I flew.
03:53
So, uh I don't have the honor of being the first one to tweet
03:57
Um but I, I do have the honor of being the first one to tweet in
04:02
Spanish that talk about, about an NFT in the making the first
04:07
tweet in Spanish that I'm gonna wrap up with the bull and maybe
04:12
make some, uh maybe make some money out of it.
04:15
But we'll see, that's funny.
04:16
You have a very unique story and I think that's why people are
04:21
so curious about you and where you come from and we're gonna
04:25
really get into the cool stories and really how you got to where
04:30
you are today.
04:31
I think that's going to inspire a lot of people and that's why
04:34
people are so curious about you and curious about your stories
04:37
I mean, I see it on tiktok all the time.
04:39
I get people asking me so many questions, so many, you know
04:43
space astronaut related just stem related field questions
04:46
that, you know, hopefully by the end of this podcast, everyone
04:50
will get something out of it and we'll learn a little bit more
04:54
about what it means to even actually be an astronaut.
04:57
What, what does the job entail, what are the, you know, technical
05:00
aspects of it?
05:01
And also like the training, the education, you know, because
05:05
like you said you were a little kid, I nine or 10, 10 years old
05:09
dreaming to be an astronaut, but actually to make it happen
05:12
and turn that dream into a reality, I think that's what people
05:16
really want to hear is ok.
05:18
What are those steps do I need to take to get me there?
05:22
And so I'm really excited we're going to touch on a little bit
05:25
of that past what you're doing now and what, you know, you plan
05:29
to do in the future.
05:30
I think a lot of people have just so much curiosity about you
05:33
and I'm, I'm glad to be able to do that here on this podcast with
05:37
you.
05:37
Absolutely.
05:38
And what I try to sell, Vanessa is because I give a lot of motivational
05:41
conferences and that's exactly what I try to sell.
05:45
I, I tell people my story uh for the purpose of having them relate
05:50
to a normal person because I'm no genius, but I am a hard worker
05:54
and I always tell people if you have a plan and you're willing
05:57
to work hard.
05:59
I mean, we live in a country where you can reach the American
06:02
dream and I was blessed to be able to reach the ultimate American
06:05
dream, which was to go up into space.
06:07
But like you said, a lot of hard work went into it and we'll take
06:11
a deep dive into the, to what it entailed.
06:14
But yes, I'm very excited to be here and tell my story.
06:17
Ok.
06:17
So I really want to talk about the present.
06:20
What are you doing right now?
06:21
Professionally?
06:22
Personally, I'd love to hear it all.
06:25
Well, I'm doing a lot of things.
06:27
Now, as you know, I keep myself busy all the time, I have a engineering
06:31
consulting firm where I do aerospace consulting.
06:35
One of the biggest projects I worked in is helping Mexico uh
06:38
buy three communication satellites and launching them into
06:43
space.
06:44
I've also spent my time writing books uh about my experiences
06:48
So I wrote my autobiography, Reaching For the Stars.
06:52
And then the publisher asked me to write a children's book
06:56
And so I, I wrote the, the, the book, the boy who touched the
06:59
Stars and I made it by lingu.
07:03
So it's uh one page is in Spanish, the other is in English and
07:06
you have the whole scenery there.
07:07
So uh kids love that book and then finally, the publisher said
07:11
write a middle reader book.
07:14
So I wrote uh from farmer to astronaut uh in both in English
07:20
and Spanish.
07:21
So, and, and that one is just one book.
07:23
So they read the English portion, they flip it over and the
07:26
Spanish uh uh is, is right there and it says from the camp is
07:31
the Spanish side.
07:32
And then uh uh from farm worker to astronaut is the English
07:36
sides also giving uh motivational conferences all over the
07:40
world.
07:40
Well, let's get into it.
07:41
Let's talk about, you know, the past a little bit and how you
07:44
got from growing up working in the farm with your family to
07:49
becoming an astronaut.
07:51
So from the very beginning, what do you think was your like
07:55
aha moment like I want to be an astronaut like, where were
08:00
you that in that point of time, in terms of where you were living
08:05
your dynamic with your family?
08:07
And that moment before I start that, let me just make set the
08:11
table uh in terms of the setting, in terms of the setting.
08:16
Um I told you, I come from a migrant farm, working family, a
08:19
lot of people say, let's say migrant farm, working family
08:22
And I said, let me paint you the picture.
08:24
Um Ever since I could remember because my dad used to do this
08:28
since he was 15 years old.
08:29
Uh He came from the state of Michoacan in Mexico to California
08:35
to work.
08:36
And the only thing he knew how to work, which was agriculture
08:39
And he quickly set a um routine that was common among people
08:44
from Michoacan, which was uh follow the harvest of the crops
08:48
in California.
08:49
From Southern California to northern California.
08:52
Spent two months in Chino Ontario area picking strawberries
08:57
Then he would move two months to Salinas where he worked in
09:01
more strawberry picking and lettuce picking.
09:04
And then he would go five months into Stockton and there he
09:07
worked in picking cucumbers, cherries, peaches, pears,
09:13
uh tomatoes.
09:14
And then he would end the harvest around November time frame
09:17
with the grape harvest.
09:18
Then he would hightail it back to Mexico.
09:20
Of course, he marries mom from his hometown and he uh brings
09:24
mom along this pilgrimage every year.
09:27
Nine months.
09:28
California, three months in Mexico.
09:30
Well, any marriage kids come along, half of us were lucky enough
09:35
to be born in the States and the other half were born in Mexico
09:38
I kids based on the seasons and, and a kid with my siblings that
09:42
were born in Mexico.
09:42
I said, hey, I could run for president of the United States
09:45
and they can't because you have to be a natural born citizen
09:48
I know so fast forward second grade.
09:52
Um we're in our last stop in November and my dad wakes up like
09:58
he does every year makes the big announcement says kids, we're
10:02
going to Mexico next week.
10:04
Make sure you get three months worth of homework that you can
10:07
do in Mexico.
10:08
That's so crazy that you're able to do that.
10:10
Like just go to your teacher and be like, I need this much homework
10:14
three months, a lot of homework to take with you the week before
10:20
That's why he would do it the week before.
10:21
So, so the teacher had time to do it.
10:23
And of course, II I knew this routine because I asked for my
10:27
homework in the kindergarten and I asked for my homework in
10:30
the.
10:30
So it was the third time.
10:32
So I knew.
10:33
So I went to school with my siblings that day and I'm the youngest
10:36
of the four and, and I went and it was miss Young, my teacher
10:40
she's a, uh, tall Asian American woman, uh, very beautiful
10:46
young and tall, relatively to a 10 year old.
10:48
Because now I see her, the poor thing is shorter than me.
10:51
And I, I'm short, but I tell her that I wanted, uh, three months
10:55
worth of homework and she looks at me and she says, you tell
10:58
your parents, I'm gonna go talk to them and I got scared because
11:02
the teacher never comes to our house.
11:04
And uh and she was frustrated and rightfully so because this
11:07
is the fourth time.
11:07
She's doing this for the Hernandez family, right?
11:09
She did it for my three other siblings.
11:11
And so the fourth time was the charm.
11:12
So she goes and, and kinda, you know, reads the riot act to my
11:17
to my parents because she says, hey, your kids have potential
11:21
but you need to stay in one place so that they have a chance to
11:27
make it.
11:28
My dad didn't understand that because he was very defensive
11:31
and he says, hey, we believe in education even though my, my
11:34
wife and I only have a third grade education.
11:36
We want you to um uh we want our the best for our kids and and,
11:41
and so wherever they're at, they're either in school or doing
11:43
homework.
11:44
And Miss Young said yes, but you move three times a year to different
11:49
school districts and you know what my dad's response was,
11:52
we moved during the weekend.
11:54
So which is true.
11:55
Friday was the last day of one school Monday.
11:57
We were in another school and then Miss Young says, but you
11:59
go three months to Mexico, huh?
12:00
But they do your homework.
12:02
So, in my dad's eyes, he was providing for us and he was meeting
12:05
his commitment.
12:06
Like you were doing everything right.
12:07
You were technically in school, you were still doing your
12:10
schoolwork.
12:11
So you were fine.
12:11
Yeah.
12:12
He didn't realize that moving in a strong way.
12:13
But Miss Young came to you and, or came to your family came to
12:17
my grandparents and we, like, that's not enough.
12:19
There's something missing.
12:20
There's a disconnect.
12:21
Yeah.
12:21
And you know how she made my dad realize it.
12:24
She used a farm analogy and she did it perfectly.
12:29
I mean, she first, she elevates my dad.
12:32
She tells my dad, you know, uh, your kids tell me you've been
12:36
working in, uh, in farm, in farms all your life.
12:39
You must be an expert and you didn't have to tell my dad that
12:42
twice.
12:43
He puts his collar up says, well, I'm not sure I'm an expert
12:46
but, uh, I know a thing or two about plants.
12:48
Can I help you?
12:49
And Miss Young smiles because he fell for her trap.
12:53
And the trap was, she said, imagine I'm gonna give you a tree
12:59
on a potted plant.
13:01
And I want you to find the best s land here, dig a hole and you
13:05
plant it.
13:07
My dad said, OK.
13:09
And then M Young says, but in three months, I want you to find
13:13
another plot of land, dig a hole and transplant that same tree
13:19
And you're gonna be taking care of it like the expert that you
13:21
are feeding it, fertilizing it the exact same way, the exact
13:25
same way.
13:26
And my dad's a little bit confused and says, OK.
13:30
And then M Young says in three months from now, what's more
13:33
every three months?
13:34
You're gonna find a new spot, dig a hole transplant that same
13:38
fruit tree.
13:40
But you're gonna take care of it like the expert that you are
13:44
And then she looks at him straight and says, you are an expert
13:48
in plants and trees.
13:50
What happens to that tree in the long run?
13:53
And my dad looks at her and says, that's an easy one, Miss Young
13:56
He says the tree is not gonna die because I'm nourishing it
14:00
But I will tell you this, you're gonna stunt it's it's growth
14:05
Why?
14:06
Because you're not letting the tree grow its roots deep.
14:10
He says the roots need to go deep so the branches can grow big
14:14
and strong.
14:14
He even raised his hands big and strong.
14:17
And then two seconds later, you can see my dad's facial expression
14:23
change because he realized that tree signified what he was
14:27
doing to us and was like mic drop.
14:30
She said, I think my job here is done and I'll tell you from then
14:34
on we didn't stop in southern California.
14:37
We didn't stop in Central California.
14:39
We went straight to Stockton and then our trips to Mexico shrank
14:44
from three months to three weeks centered around Christmas
14:47
And that's when our education started to get traction.
14:50
And then I already told you that when I was 10 years old, I saw
14:53
astronaut Gene Cernan walk on the moon and the best thing I
14:57
could have done that same day, December 1972.
15:00
Remember it?
15:01
Because it was a cold day.
15:02
Uh because I remember I was watching Gene Cernan on a black
15:05
and white TV.
15:06
Then I would go outside and see the moon almost full.
15:09
And I was just mesmerized, being able to see Gene Cernan on
15:13
TV, on the moon and the moon at the same time that I told my dad
15:17
I wanna be an astronaut that same night because the dream
15:21
was conceived at that moment.
15:25
Best thing I could have done because my dad takes me to the kitchen
15:28
table and he gives me the recipe that I live to this day.
15:34
He said, and I might, I remind you, he only has a third grade
15:38
education, but he had the wisdom to say this.
15:40
He said, if you want to do what you just told me, you want to do
15:44
you gotta follow these five steps.
15:47
I, I immediately became a sponge.
15:49
I said, what are they?
15:50
Then he says, you gotta to define your goal in life.
15:54
And I said I wanna be an astronaut.
15:56
I figure I got one out of five done.
15:57
I'm almost there.
15:59
Second.
16:00
He said you gotta recognize how far you are from the goal.
16:05
I looked at our half peeling linoleum four in, in our two bedroom
16:09
rental in the worst part of Stockton, California.
16:11
I told my dad we can't be any farther than this.
16:15
I figured he was gonna, you know, slap me on but he didn't.
16:20
He kind of chuckled.
16:21
He said, I'm glad you recognize that son because the third
16:24
thing is you gotta draw yourself a road map from where you know
16:27
where you're at and clearly by your smart remarks you do to
16:31
where you wanna go because you have to know the way I said, what's
16:34
the forefront dad education?
16:37
You gotta prepare yourself according to your going and you
16:40
picked the big one, son.
16:41
So good luck with that.
16:43
And then he said, finally, he pointed outside the kitchen
16:46
table.
16:46
So you, you know that effort, you put out Saturdays and Sundays
16:49
and seven days a week during the summer picking fruits and
16:52
vegetables with your siblings and your mom and dad.
16:55
So you know that effort.
16:56
I said, yeah, dad, he points to my books on the kitchen table
17:00
and says, you put that effort here.
17:03
He says, you mix that up, that's the recipe to succeed.
17:07
And then that's when he says, always give more than what people
17:11
expect out of, you always give more.
17:14
I went to sleep so happy because I said, you know what my dad
17:18
said, empowered me to believe I could be an astronaut.
17:21
He gave me a recipe.
17:24
I'm gonna be an astronaut and I never looked back and I never
17:27
believed I could never do it.
17:29
Uh I would add that six ingredient that I told you earlier is
17:33
perseverance.
17:34
So you put those six ingredients and, and I mean, that's what
17:37
I took as a 10 year old and I ran with it all the way to my 12th try
17:44
of becoming an astronaut and actually achieving it.
17:47
So that's I, I also have to mention that even though my dad gave
17:51
us the recipe and, and the expectation, you know, mom was also
17:57
played an important role because she laid the environment
17:59
out at home in terms of uh making sure the right environment
18:03
existed for us to do our homework.
18:05
You know, we sat on the kitchen table and, you know, she would
18:08
make handmade tortillas, give you a taco while you're doing
18:11
your homework, all all these things to make it.
18:14
And I, I remember one of the best example she did.
18:18
I tell you if had both of them went to college, they would have
18:21
been world renowned psychologists because they were the
18:24
best motivators.
18:25
I remember we had finished work one day.
18:29
It was a Friday when you get paid.
18:31
And uh and, and in those days they would hand out paper checks
18:35
you know, what are those now?
18:36
Right.
18:36
But they hand out paper checks and it was all five of us.
18:40
And on Fridays we would go to a gas station, Chevron gas station
18:44
and the Bank of America was right across and it was after work
18:48
uh, my siblings would go into the Food Mart and, you know,
18:51
they would get Coke and chips for us.
18:53
My dad would gas up and my mom would drag me to the bank to cash
18:57
the checks.
18:58
And I love going to the bank because it was air conditioned
19:01
It was hot outside and, and, and I remember we're standing
19:04
in line and uh my mom tugs at my shirt.
19:07
I said, yes, yes mommy.
19:09
And she points at the general manager of the bank.
19:11
And of course, the general manager is in a kind of real nice
19:14
designer suit, well dressed and all that.
19:18
And she says, what do you see there, son?
19:20
And I said, well, I see a man and she says, no, she says, I see
19:24
you.
19:25
I said this is, you know how I want to see you when you grow up
19:31
I said, look at yourself right now and I was muddy dirty.
19:34
I said, look at your hands.
19:36
I said, if you work with this, pointing to my brain, my head
19:41
here.
19:41
He says, you're gonna go farther and you're gonna be dressed
19:44
like him and you're gonna work in a place like this.
19:46
If you work with your hands, look at your hands.
19:49
He said, now, look at yourself.
19:50
That's how you're gonna be the rest of your life.
19:52
You want to do that the rest of your life.
19:53
And she said, which means I said, you know, you gotta go to school
20:00
And so those are messages that were loud and clear to us and
20:03
said, you know.
20:04
Right.
20:04
And I think that shows the importance of having a really strong
20:08
support system in your life for those who may not have it looking
20:13
to other people to provide that support.
20:15
And I think that's why you're such a great role model is not
20:19
everyone has parents like you or like I do.
20:23
And so they look to you for your story and for your encouragement
20:28
and your wise words of, you know, how to get to where you are
20:31
and how to be that successful.
20:33
So going, you know, into your college days and getting that
20:37
education and you're like, all right, this is what I need to
20:40
do.
20:40
This is, you know, I have my plan, I have my road map.
20:43
Let's talk about you actually getting into the engineer field
20:47
So you went to college for engineering and then you started
20:51
working in the field as an engineer and you started that process
20:56
of, of applying to become a NASA astronaut.
21:00
What does that mean?
21:01
What is that whole process?
21:02
And you got rejected a lot, like a lot to the point where not
21:07
a lot of people would probably have the same perseverance
21:11
as you did.
21:12
So, so what was that, like, did you face any adversities?
21:16
Was it just really hard, like, what was going through your
21:21
mind in that whole process of you're establishing your career
21:24
and now you're really going for it.
21:26
A lot of people always ask me if it was frustrating, read or
21:30
um, or why I didn't give up sooner, you know, because they
21:34
say, wow, 11 rejections, I said, you, you don't hear that a
21:39
lot, maybe the fourth, the fifth time.
21:41
But the thing I always tell folks, I said, this is why it's great
21:45
to have a built in Plan B in your life.
21:50
And that's what I did.
21:52
I, I said because, you know, I, I always knew I wanted to be an
21:58
astronaut and I was smart enough to, when I was in high school
22:02
to, to see and say, ok, what kind of careers do astronauts have
22:06
Because you can't go to a university and say I wanna major in
22:09
an astronaut.
22:10
There's not, there's not a major in that, right?
22:12
And so, so I said, well, what kind of careers, what kind of schools
22:15
they go into?
22:16
And what did they study?
22:17
And I saw that a lot of them were astrophysicists, uh some were
22:20
even medical doctors, but the bulk of them were engineers
22:24
and to me engineers was very pragmatic because I knew I can
22:28
have a uh a job in uh in industry if I don't make it as an astronaut
22:35
And in order to train, you know, in order to be able to get there
22:38
as, as an astronaut, I knew I had to go to graduate school.
22:41
And so that's what I did.
22:42
I said I'm gonna go major in engineering because I know I can
22:44
get a job and then I can go to graduate school.
22:47
Uh because I competition is tough at NASA.
22:50
So you need a graduate degree.
22:51
So I knew I was smart enough to go to graduate school.
22:54
And then I started working at Lawrence Silver Lab.
22:56
And I started after I had three years experience, I was eligible
23:00
to put in my first application and of course I would get rejected
23:05
and then I would get rejected again.
23:06
Re I got rejected six times.
23:09
Uh by the sixth time, II, I would get the same letter.
23:13
The only thing that changed was the date because it said dear
23:17
applicant and said, even though you qualified to become an
23:19
astronaut, more than 18,000 people apply and only uh 10 to
23:24
15 astronauts get selected.
23:25
Unfortunately, you're not one of them.
23:26
So I remember I, I crunched that six rejection letter down
23:30
and uh and your mom found it and, and at that point I had given
23:35
up and this is all signs that happened, you know, because I
23:40
threw the crumpled piece in the round garbage can and it missed
23:45
it, hit the floor, had it hit the garbage can and went in.
23:48
Your mom would be totally different because my right, because
23:52
your mom would have put the garbage away, wouldn't have looked
23:54
at the fact that it was on the floor caught her attention and
23:57
she looked at it and she saw it scrunched up.
24:00
So she kind of figured I was giving up because she then confronts
24:03
me and says, what's this?
24:05
And that's when I tell her, I said, well, you know, it's nasa's
24:07
uh six rejection.
24:09
I don't think they want me.
24:10
I think I'm gonna give up this silly dream.
24:12
And she said, that's not the man.
24:14
I know.
24:16
Oh I said, uh it's because, because she, she, and then she went
24:20
to my ego.
24:21
She said, so you're a quitter.
24:24
I mean, to me, those are fighting words.
24:26
And I said, no, I'm not a quitter.
24:27
Look six times.
24:29
They rejected me.
24:30
It's clear they don't want me.
24:32
And then she reads the last line that's the same on every rejection
24:36
letter.
24:37
Please feel free to apply for the next election round.
24:41
I said they're inviting you to apply again.
24:44
So you don't know if they all selected the 7th, 8th or ninth
24:47
time.
24:47
And she said, and I know that if you do quit now, what's gonna
24:53
happen years down the line is because I know you very well,
24:56
you're always gonna wonder what if, and that little bug inside
25:01
of you is gonna gnaw at you.
25:02
What if, what if?
25:03
And you're gonna grow up to be a bitter old man.
25:07
And I don't want to be married to a bitter old man.
25:09
So you better think about applying again.
25:12
And so she read me the riot act and, you know, after thinking
25:16
about it, I said, you know, she's right, I'm not gonna give
25:19
up, but I did something different after that.
25:22
The thing that I did different that I wasn't doing the last
25:25
six years was I took a deep dive into everybody's career that
25:30
got selected.
25:31
And I asked myself a fundamental question.
25:33
What do they have that I don't have because we had the same,
25:38
similar education, similar work experience, similar age
25:41
and I could have used discrimination as a excuse, cop out excuse
25:46
But I said, you know, NASA is too, too good for that.
25:50
I know they don't discriminate.
25:51
I know they go on talent.
25:52
So there must be something else.
25:55
And then looking at the background of each astronaut, it hit
25:58
me like a brick wall.
26:01
They were all pilots and I wasn't a pilot.
26:05
So what did I do?
26:06
I invested in myself and I became a pilot.
26:09
Wow.
26:10
But then I applied again, didn't get selected.
26:13
I did that same deep dive.
26:15
Sure enough.
26:16
They were all pilots, but I was a pilot and I was happy but then
26:19
I saw they were all scuba diver rated.
26:23
I wasn't scuba.
26:24
So every weekend I would drive to Monterey California and
26:28
dive for the weekend.
26:29
I got basic, certified, advanced, certified scuba rescue
26:33
uh master certified.
26:34
I wanna make sure NASA knew, I knew how to scuba dive.
26:37
So I got that.
26:39
And then I think finally what tipped the scales to my favor
26:44
was at work.
26:45
There was a job they were looking for engineers to work with
26:48
the State Department to go to Russia and help them help the
26:52
Russians uh reduce their nuclear stockpile of weapons.
26:56
And uh and the US was help, was interested in helping them out
26:59
because they want to reduce the amount of weapons and no one
27:01
wanted to go because it was in Siberia five year project.
27:04
You're gonna go travel 67 times a year, 2 to 3 weeks at a time
27:09
That's a lot.
27:09
Yeah.
27:09
And I said, put me in coach and it wasn't because I wanted to
27:13
get away from your mom.
27:15
It wasn't because of that.
27:16
It was because I had read in the newspaper a few months back
27:20
that the US and Russia had signed an agreement that we were
27:24
gonna build the International Space Station together.
27:28
So it didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out even though
27:31
I am one, but it didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out
27:34
that we were gonna be working with the Russians hand in hand
27:38
And I saw this as the great differentiator that will differentiate
27:43
me from the competition because I told my boss, I'll take this
27:47
job that no one wanted it.
27:49
I said, but I'll take it one condition.
27:51
He said, what's that?
27:52
He said, I want a one on one Russian language instructor.
27:56
Uh So I could do my job better in Russia.
27:59
And he loved my, the idea.
28:02
He says, I very proactive of you to be like this is what I need
28:07
but I was doing it because I said this is gonna look good in
28:09
my application in your favor.
28:12
Yeah, after five years learned Russian and shortly after
28:18
that, that's when NASA started calling.
28:22
But to get to your point, did I get frustrated because I was
28:26
getting rejected?
28:27
I said, no, everybody hates rejection.
28:30
Everybody gets uh you know, down on when you're rejected.
28:34
I and I was no different, but I would always pick myself up because
28:39
I, because I would say the fact that I want to be an astronaut
28:44
motivated me to go to college, motivated me to go to graduate
28:48
school, motivated me to get a job at a world premier National
28:53
lab.
28:53
Be a pilot, motivated me to be a scuba diver, learn a third language
28:59
So what's the worst that could happen if I never get selected
29:04
I have a kick ass job at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
29:07
right?
29:07
You're not a successful career in not, not a bad consolation
29:13
prize.
29:14
So, so that's, that's what kept me going and something that
29:17
I actually have learned just in my, you know, 24 years on this
29:22
planet and all of my experiences, you know, you ask the question
29:27
you know, what's the worst thing that can happen?
29:30
And you have an amazing career and you don't become an astronaut
29:34
I like asking what's the best thing that can happen?
29:37
You put in all this work and what is the best thing that can happen
29:41
You become an astronaut and that's what you did and you went
29:44
to space and that is pretty freaking cool to anyone.
29:48
I don't think anyone is like, oh OK, you're an astronaut.
29:51
So what?
29:51
No, that is the coolest job to have on on earth and outside of
29:56
earth.
29:57
So I really, you know, commend you for your hard work and also
30:01
instilling that in me and teaching not only me, but so many
30:04
people that perseverance is really the key message and you
30:09
know, making a dream into a reality, talking about actually
30:14
going to space though.
30:15
What was that process like?
30:17
Ok, you're now a NASA astronaut, you're training, what is
30:22
the training look like?
30:23
And I want to hear about the actual launch because I think a
30:26
lot of people are curious of what that experience is like and
30:32
then, you know, you're in space but you're still doing a job
30:36
So I think a lot of people would love to hear about that when
30:39
you get selected, I always tell people be careful what you
30:43
ask for because you may get it.
30:46
And when I got selected uh oh, what did I sign up for?
30:49
Exactly when, when I got selected as a NASA astronaut?
30:53
So you show up at NASA uh you know, you, you're part of a 14, a
30:57
group of 14 astronauts uh astronaut class number 19.
31:03
Uh and uh and you start training and I tell you, it was one of
31:08
the toughest trainings because you, you're not eligible
31:11
to fly in space.
31:12
Once you get named to be an astronaut, you're actually an astronaut
31:15
candidate for two years when you report to NASA.
31:18
And during those two years, you basically learn how to fly
31:23
a T 38 jet.
31:26
And I always tell myself, oh, that's why they wanted us to have
31:29
pilot experience.
31:31
Then they teach you how to do E VA space walking in the nutri
31:36
buoyancy pool.
31:37
It's a 40 ft deep pool where a life size shuttle and a third of
31:42
the International Space Station fit underwater.
31:44
At the same time, the space station is as big as a football field
31:47
So imagine a third of it fitting underwater in a pool with a
31:51
life size shuttle underwater.
31:54
So you put on the E VA S flight suit and they, with a crane, they
31:58
put you under water and then they make you neutrally buoyant
32:01
and you crack this E VA with spacewalks.
32:04
And that's when I told myself this is why they wanted you to
32:07
be scuba dive certified.
32:09
They want to make sure everything has a but, but NASA doesn't
32:13
say it, you have to figure out yourself.
32:15
And that's why I tell everybody, I said, hey, you want to do
32:17
be a, you gotta do this and this and that.
32:19
So I, I try to give them the go.
32:21
Yeah, exactly.
32:23
Yeah.
32:23
So, so, so, so, so, so I, I did all that and then the academics
32:28
are such that you have to learn the different subsystems of
32:32
the space shuttle in the International Space Station.
32:35
And then you go into single system trainers where they fail
32:38
like auxiliary power units, they fail the electrical system
32:42
the mechanical system and then they go into multiple uh subsystems
32:47
and do, do uh simulations and they fail different things that
32:52
interact with the other subsystems.
32:53
So you learn how to do that and then you do, you go to the high
32:57
fidelity motion based simulator and they put every integrate
33:00
everything together and they throw the kitchen sink at you
33:03
as you, as you do launches, you do orbit operations and you
33:08
do landings and then you have written tests every Friday for
33:11
those two years.
33:12
So imagine being in graduate school uh in finals for two straight
33:17
years, that's how it felt like it was like rigorous, it was
33:21
tough and you can't help but have feelings like the impostor
33:28
syndrome because there you are you know, you, you're the only
33:32
uh Mexican American there.
33:34
You got flight jocks, you got helicopter pilots, you got navy
33:38
seals, you know, you got flight surgeons and then you got little
33:43
me and, and I would always doubt myself.
33:47
I said, do I really belong here because it was hard and you doubt
33:50
yourself.
33:51
And the way I would pick myself up the way, I always tell people
33:54
the way you fight this impostor syndrome thing is take a,
33:59
I call safety time out on yourself and then look back at your
34:04
career because you're asking the question.
34:07
Do I belong?
34:09
And then I say, hey, I went to, I got my, my engineering degree
34:13
my graduate degree, I learned a third language.
34:16
I'm a pilot, I'm a scuba diver.
34:18
I worked at a uh premier research facility.
34:21
I was one of two people who invented the first fulfilled digital
34:24
mammography system for early breast cancer.
34:28
And then I would tell myself, hell yeah, I belong here.
34:31
And then I would get back to work and say I'm gonna do this.
34:34
So I would never give up.
34:36
But that's how I handled it.
34:38
But it was tough.
34:38
I mean, that's how it was.
34:40
And then after those two years you graduate and then you accept
34:44
a uh a, a job, uh they give you, they assign you a job to, to basically
34:50
support the missions.
34:52
And I was what they called a Cape Crusader uh astronaut support
34:56
personnel.
34:57
Uh a group of four of us would go two weeks before a launch and
35:01
we would prep the space shuttle calibrate all the equipment
35:04
everything from the inside and then we would strap the crew
35:07
in our face was the last face they saw before they went off into
35:10
space.
35:10
I did six of those missions.
35:13
That's so cool because I do remember you traveling a lot during
35:17
this time, which was not to Kennedy, which was not the easiest
35:21
for our family.
35:22
But II I see how beneficial that was for you in that time of your
35:27
career because you were strapping these people and getting
35:31
ready to go on these launches that were super dangerous and
35:36
that I didn't really have, you know, the, you know, I couldn't
35:40
even wrap my head around that part of it at that age.
35:44
But you got first hand experience of going to these, you know
35:48
the launches and working side by side with these people and
35:53
thinking, oh, I'm, I'm gonna be this person one day.
35:55
You know, this is what I'm expecting to, to put myself through
35:59
Exactly.
36:00
And, and not only that, but we were also part of the rescue team
36:03
So we were in the closest area you can possibly be uh to see a
36:08
launch in person.
36:10
You could feel the heat of the engines where we were at.
36:12
After six missions, I get assigned to the mission with the
36:17
crew and then we got to train 18 months to go for our own mission
36:24
Those 18 months come and go.
36:26
Those were good training.
36:28
Uh wasn't as difficult as when we were astronaut candidates
36:31
because they're success oriented training.
36:33
So now I get selected to be the flight engineer.
36:36
Flight engineer is the best seat in the house because you're
36:39
a little bit behind the two pilots, but you're in the middle
36:43
and you get the panoramic, the best seat in the house, the seat
36:46
everyone wants.
36:47
It's the busiest seat because uh you're, you're basically
36:51
supporting both pilots.
36:53
Uh you know, they each have five monitors and you're hawking
36:56
all those 10 monitors.
36:58
Uh If anything goes wrong, you peel off with the person that
37:01
owns the subsystem and you work the issue.
37:04
So you got to know everything about the show.
37:06
And uh and I was just so lucky that my commander had faith in
37:10
me.
37:10
He says you're gonna be the uh the flight engineer and it had
37:14
a lot to do with the fact that the past six flights, I was inside
37:18
the cockpit and I knew the systems uh inside and out and that's
37:22
why he went hard work paid off.
37:23
So that hard work paid off.
37:25
Yeah.
37:26
Now imagine you're there and you're getting ready to launch
37:31
and you're strapped in and it starts to rain.
37:37
I start seeing flashes of light.
37:38
Oh my gosh.
37:39
I remember this.
37:40
Your flight got delayed so many times.
37:43
I only like I got pulled out of school because it's such an experience
37:48
and it was in there, I was over there and I was watching and we
37:52
all get to watch the flights.
37:54
The families also get a really pretty cool view of the launch
37:57
and it kept getting delayed.
38:00
And so what turned into what was supposed to be, only a couple
38:03
day trip turned into like a two week trip or something?
38:05
A little bit over a week, a little bit because we were supposed
38:07
to fly on a Monday and we ended up flying on Friday.
38:11
Yeah.
38:11
So just imagine it was a midnight launch too.
38:14
Beautiful launches right in the middle of the night.
38:17
Uh, you know, when you're there, you reach, uh, t minus two
38:23
seconds.
38:24
T minus one.
38:25
And then you hear the three engines of the shuttle come to life
38:30
starts roaring.
38:32
You feel a gentle vibration and then about a second later the
38:37
two solid rocket boosters, the white ones light up.
38:40
Now, you know, you're going somewhere because those cannot
38:44
be turned off.
38:45
Where are you going?
38:45
You don't know, but you know, you're going somewhere when
38:47
those light up, the, the noise level goes up in order of magnitude
38:51
the vibration gets more violent.
38:53
And just as you think it's gonna fall over, you feel a push on
38:57
your back and that's lift off and you go from zero to 17,500
39:05
miles an hour in 8.5 minutes.
39:10
I mean, I always tell people it's the best e-ticket ride.
39:13
Disneyland can hope for, you know, 8.5 minutes.
39:18
You're up in space, you reach Miko, which is main engine cut
39:22
off and now you're going at that speed.
39:25
17,500 miles an hour around the earth.
39:28
Now it's a very smooth ride.
39:30
Nice and quiet.
39:31
But you're going around the earth once every 90 minutes continuously
39:36
Once every 90 minutes, you get 45 minutes of daylight, 45 minutes
39:40
at night, 45 minutes of daylight, so on and so forth.
39:43
Then, you know, a day later we catch up to the International
39:46
Space Station, we talk to the station and then our work begins
39:51
boom, you're there in space, 14 days of space in space.
39:55
Ok.
39:55
So now that we've talked about your present, your past, let's
39:59
talk a little bit about the future.
40:01
What are some of the cool things you got going on?
40:03
I know you have a foundation, you have your past, you know,
40:07
internships that you've done with your consulting company
40:10
What are those all about?
40:11
Do you want to talk about those?
40:13
Well, sure.
40:13
But you know, one of the things is in which still includes the
40:17
future was that, you know, I'm all about inspiring this next
40:22
generation.
40:23
And uh and the primary focus uh these past few years has, has
40:30
been on my family on you, getting you through college, getting
40:33
your siblings through college and making sure that they're
40:36
all successful.
40:37
And once that is uh is happening, which is has happened, I think
40:41
we only have one right, Antonio who's a fresh in uh in mechanical
40:45
engineering.
40:46
You know, I've established a foundation called Reaching
40:48
For the Stars.
40:49
Uh You can find its website astro JH dot org.
40:54
And in this foundation, what we did is um it works in the Central
40:58
valley of California, near Stockton.
41:00
And what we try to do is we try to promote, make people aware
41:04
of uh careers in stem science, technology, engineering and
41:09
math.
41:10
Uh because in the area where we live primary agriculture,
41:13
a lot of people don't consider those type of uh uh career choices
41:18
And we, we're trying to expose uh the under utilize uh segmented
41:24
groups in our communities to be able to uh have access uh to
41:29
careers in STEM.
41:30
And so with my foundation, you know, we do have a three pronged
41:34
approach.
41:35
The first thing we do is uh we have a science blast where um we
41:40
invite more than 1205th graders uh to a university, University
41:45
of Pacific or Delta Community College.
41:47
And we expose them not only to the university but also a hands
41:51
on exploratorium experience.
41:53
So that uh Yeah, yeah, we, we plant the seed, that's a good way
41:58
of putting it, you plant the seed but, but we, we, we wanna wake
42:01
up their scientific curiosity so that so uh in in, in science
42:06
and they get excited and a lot of people say why?
42:08
Fifth grade.
42:09
Uh well, fifth grade, how old is the fifth grader?
42:13
10 years old?
42:14
How old was I when I wanted to become an astronaut?
42:17
10 years old.
42:18
So I figure if it worked for me, it's gonna work for them and
42:23
they have the added bonus that I saw an astronaut on TV.
42:27
They get to see an astronaut in person and most of the time that
42:33
astronaut looks like them, so they're able to uh so I try to
42:37
do this empowering of this 10 year old.
42:39
And then after that, we have a, a summer academy at the University
42:43
of the Pacific from seventh graders to 12th graders, spend
42:46
five weeks on a university campus and they study next year's
42:51
science and math core curriculum of their school uh in a hands
42:55
on approach uh so that they can go back strong uh and, and be
42:59
able to study, you know, math and science won't be foreign
43:02
to them.
43:03
And so we do that uh in a college environment so they can see
43:08
themselves in a college environment.
43:11
And, and so they, it has that added bonus as well.
43:14
And then we also give scholarships to our graduating seniors
43:18
that then go on to study uh stem careers.
43:21
So, so we do that during the uh with the Reaching for the Stars
43:25
Foundation and then with my small company, Tira Luna Engineering
43:30
if you write me an email info at tira luna engineering dot com
43:35
uh then uh we can give you information about applying as a
43:40
as a summer student to work and we'll put you to work on very
43:43
interesting satellite related projects or rocketry uh launching
43:48
rockets.
43:49
Uh Also level one, level two, level three type of rockets.
43:52
Uh So there's a lot of work that we're doing and, and, and, and
43:56
and we're very excited, but, and then again, you know, I can't
44:00
emphasize enough the fact that we also uh you know, go out and
44:04
and preach the good gospel of space exploration via my conferences
44:09
and try to empower kids and adults, you know, to reach the full
44:13
potential, anything's possible in life if they're willing
44:16
to work hard for it.
44:17
And that's what I try to get across to everybody.
44:19
I just wanted to thank you again for coming on this podcast
44:22
I, I truly, you know, am inspired by you daily constantly.
44:27
You know, you're my biggest role model, you're also my dad
44:30
So it's like a special place in my heart to be able to share this
44:34
story from my perspective and your perspective.
44:38
And you're a big reason why this podcast even happened.
44:41
You're a big inspiration of that.
44:43
I think the most important takeaway is that your story is so
44:47
unique to you, but it's not unique in the sense that there are
44:50
so many other people who have such amazing stories and success
44:55
in these different fields.
44:56
And the reason why we created this podcast was to provide that
45:00
platform to share those stories and uplift those voices.
45:04
And I'm really excited to just be able to, to do that and embark
45:09
on this journey.
45:10
And I'm really excited for, for you to see the rest of it and
45:14
hear all these different stories from different people,
45:18
different women, especially women of color in, in these stem
45:21
related fields.
45:23
Um And I, I just am really excited for this and I'm excited you
45:27
were here to be the first person to, to be on the podcast.
45:31
You definitely broke the ice.
45:32
And I, I hope everyone enjoyed listening to all of our stories
45:36
and all of your great advice that you have.
45:39
Well, I, I'm so proud of you, Vanessa for what you're doing
45:43
Uh And I'm very honored to be, you know, guest number one of
45:49
the astronauts daughter podcast.
45:51
You like you mentioned is, my story is not unique.
45:55
I think there's lots of stories that need to be told.
45:58
And uh through this medium, you're work, you're gonna be working
46:01
hard to uncover and tell these stories.
46:05
And then that allows people to realize that if they're not
46:09
in a unique position, I mean, they, they can identify with
46:14
some of us who have been there before yet through hard work
46:18
and perseverance, you know, we're able to achieve and they
46:21
can too, it's like I said, I'm not a genius, I'm not, you know
46:25
uh, an Einstein, but I do work hard and if people have good
46:29
work ethics, good things will, uh, will come and be, I always
46:33
have this saying, it's an old saying is the, uh, the, you know
46:37
the harder I work, the luckier I get, you know, and that's
46:41
that's the way it should be.