Former NASA astronaut José Hernández MA ’86 and his inspirational story will be the subject of a Netflix original movie set to be released in 2022. The working title of the film is A Million Miles Away.
Hernández, a graduate of UC Santa Barbara’s electrical and computer engineering department, spent 14 days in space in 2009 as a flight engineer on board STS-128, a NASA Space Shuttle mission to the International Space Station. While in orbit, he was the first person to send a tweet in Spanish from space.
“The film shows my life as a migrant farmer who went from working in the fields with his parents to becoming an astronaut,” says Hernández, who describes his nomadic childhood of moving to various locations throughout California and Mexico each year with his family. “I think this film is going to inspire a lot of people, not just kids, to believe that anything is possible if you put your mind to it.”
Hernández was turned down 11 times by NASA’s astronaut program, finally getting accepted on his 12th attempt in 2004. Receiving a Graduate Engineering Minority Fellowship while a student at UC Santa Barbara was key to his success, he recalls. It meant he didn’t have to hold down a job to support his academic endeavors — a first for him. “I could focus solely on my studies and work with the great professors, like Sanjit Mitra in digital signal processing,” says Hernández, whose daughter Marisol Hernández graduated from UCSB in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in statistics and data science.
“I am certain that without that training from UCSB, there is no way I would have become an astronaut,” says Hernández, who currently serves as the president and CEO of Tierra Luna Engineering, LLC. He will have the opportunity to bring his decades of experience in the sciences to the university in a new role as well. Gov. Gavin Newsom recently appointed Hernández to a 12-year term on the University of California Board of Regents.