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A Million Miles Away: A Story of Perseverance and Dreams

A Million Miles Away

A Million Miles Away


Now streaming on Amazon Prime Video, “A Million Miles Away” (starring Michael Pea) tells the true story of how José Moreno Hernández, who had spent much of his childhood working in the fields with his family of migrant farmworkers, eventually became a NASA astronaut.

Though director Alejandra Márquez Abella admits to taking some “poetic licenses,” the film is faithful to the events recounted in Hernández’s biography.

More often than not, unbelievable tales like José’s end up being true. When hearing his story, you’ll probably be like, “Really? A former farmhand who made it to space? Is that for real? Because (it) can feel so implausible, the picture needs a clear narrative within it and emotional resonance to keep the viewer’s attention, she says.

Here’s the truth — and the lies:

The Truth of ‘A Million Miles Away’

Hernández’s autobiography, “Reaching for the Stars: The Inspiring Story of a Migrant Farmworker Turned Astronaut,” published in 2012 served as inspiration for “A Million Miles Away.”

According to Hernández, Márquez Abella did a “masterful job at representing my story and ensuring that it wasn’t just a story about one individual as a migrant farmworker to become a NASA astronaut, but rather a community effort.”

Hernández was born in French Camp, but he now primarily resides in Stockton. They originally hail from the Mexican town of La Piedad, Michoacán.

How often did NASA reject José M. Hernández?

Eleven times, NASA turned down Hernández’s application to their astronaut training program. Twelve attempts later, in May of 2004, he was finally chosen.

From the depths of my soul, I knew it was “about damn time,” he says. Despite the fact that the competition was fierce (over 12,000 individuals applied for 10-15 slots), I thought, “It’s about time” when I was eventually chosen.

When the rejection letters started piling up, he started looking into the backgrounds of NASA astronauts and discovered that many of them had experience as pilots or scuba divers. According to an interview posted on the UC website, he went on to obtain a pilot’s license and a dive certification.

After spending 13 days aboard the ISS as a member of the Shuttle STS-128 crew in 2009, he returned to Earth.

According to the closing credits, while in orbit, he listened to “El Hijo del Pueblo” by José Alfredo Jiménez, a Mexican singer and songwriter, and dined on tacos.

First Hispanic astronaut: José Hernández?

In fact, the closing titles reveal that he is the first migrant farmworker in history to visit outer space.

Franklin R. Chang Daz was the first Hispanic-American astronaut. Chang Diaz, who made history in 1980 when he was chosen as NASA’s first Hispanic astronaut, was born in San José, Costa Rica, in 1950. He has retired from his position as a NASA astronaut and is a member of the Astronaut Hall of Fame.

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Did José M. Hernández Truly Look Like a Janitor at Work?

Yes. According to the film, on Hernández’s first day of work at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, California, he inquired about a loose bulb in his office. She recognizes him as the new hire and asks, “You’re the new guy, right?” before giving him the master set of janitorial keys and directing him to the supplies closet.

On his first day of work, Hernández claims he was mistaken for a janitor. In a subsequent scene, Hernández informs the front desk clerk that he is, in fact, an engineer and not a janitor. “Not that there’s anything wrong with it,” he argues.

Hernández contributed to the first full-field digital mammography imaging system developed at a facility in Livermore, California, which is now used to aid in the early identification of breast cancer.

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