(FOX40.COM) — Outer space may reach a million miles away and beyond, but the story of José Moreno Hernández, a Stockton farmworker who went on to become an astronaut with NASA and made the trip into outer space will be on screens here on Earth at the start of Hispanic Heritage Month.
“I’ve coined the phase that it’s going to become an instant inspirational classic,” Hernández told FOX40.com in a recent interview. “I’m hoping that my words come to fruition.”
Hernández said he is a first-generation American whose family immigrated from Mexico. He spent his childhood working in the fields in San Joaquin County alongside his family, but he always dreamed of reaching the stars. A movie inspired by Hernández’s life and journey to space called “A Million Miles Away” premieres on Amazon Prime, on Friday.
“When I was 10 years old I saw the very last Apollo mission – Apollo 17, and I was mesmerized,” Hernández said. “I saw astronaut Gene Cernan walking on the moon. Every 10-year-old during that era wanted to be an astronaut and I too wanted to be an astronaut.”
Little did he know – that childhood dream would one day become a reality, but not without some struggle. Hernández said the desire to be an astronaut stuck with him throughout his life, leading to his application to be a part of NASA’s program, but he was rejected 11 times.
Hernandez said there were times that he felt like giving up, especially after being turned down so many times.
“I had doubts. No one likes rejection. Being rejected 11 times takes its toll,” Hernández said. “When I was ready to quit it was probably selection number six. I was married by that time and my wife gave me a pep talk I’ll never forget. She said that she believed in me. Her parting words were ‘I don’t know what they have that you don’t have.'”
By that point, Hernandez said that he had already been through graduate school and did everything required by NASA. So, when his wife made that comment he started looking for the answer to why others were getting selected but he wasn’t.
“I took a deep dive into everybody’s curriculum – the folks who got selected (when) I didn’t,” Hernández said. “I compared them and yes they were a similar age as me, with similar education backgrounds, and similar work experience- but they were all pilots and I wasn’t. So I thought maybe I should invest in myself and become a private pilot.”
And that’s exactly what Hernández said he did- he became a pilot. Next, he saw that the people selected by NASA were scuba dive-rated. He also learned that an international space station was in the process of being built in partnership with Russia. So Hernández upped the ante again by getting master-rated in scuba diving and becoming fluent in the Russian language.
After Hernández’s 12th application with NASA, he said he was finally accepted, joining the program’s 19th class of Astronauts in 2004. Four years later, his dream came true when he blasted off via rocket as a flight engineer and headed to outer space.
Hernández was a mission specialist on Space Shuttle Discovery’s Mission STS-128 in August and September of 2009.
“It was a surreal experience. You can train as much as you want on Earth, but the real experience isn’t real until it’s real,” Hernández said. “You never get tired of floating in space. It was just a great experience. Words cannot do it justice.”
After Hernández left NASA, he wrote multiple books which prompted filmmakers to reach out with inquiries about turning his story into a movie. Multiple offers and negotiations later, Hernández said he decided to help create “A Million Miles Away” for Amazon Prime. The movie stars Michael Peña as Hernández.
“I was the first to recommend Michael Peña, although quite frankly I think he would have been recommended anyway. He was the natural choice,” Hernández said. “I liked him because I already saw him in ‘The Martian’ with Matt Damon. So my argument was he already had astronaut experience.”
Peña is also well-known for his role in the hit Netflix series “Narcos.”
The movie premiered in late August in Stockton, the city that Hernández still calls home.
Hernández said that he hopes that after people watch “A Million Miles Away,” they’ll be encouraged to follow their dreams and know that they can do anything they put their minds to.
“It’s a story of hard work, of education being the great equalizer, of the concept of the American Dream is alive and well if you’re willing to work hard, persevere, and prepare yourself according to the challenge you select,” said Hernandez at the premiere.
“A Million Miles Away” premieres at midnight on the morning of the first day of Hispanic Heritage Month, Sept. 15, on Amazon Prime.