tv Maria Hinojosa One-on- One PBS September 17, 2016 4:00pm-4:31pm PDT
>> hinojosa: his remarkable journey took him from picking strawberries in the fields of california to floating at zero gravity at the international space station. he's now inspiring millions who dare to dream big. the amazing story of nasa astronaut jose hernandez. i'm maria hinojosa. this is one on one. jose hernandez, you are one of the few people in this world who have made it to space. you were up on the shuttle discovery for two weeks in the year 2009. and you are one of only nine latino astronauts that have actually been up in space. welcome to our program. >> thank you very much, maria. happy to be here. >> hinojosa: so what was it like
going up into space? you're one of, like, 500 people who have done it. >> it's just an amazing experience. i think few people realize that it only takes eight and a half minutes to get up into space. >> hinojosa: so, like, we'll be done with this television show, and you would have already made it... >> halfway across the world. >> hinojosa: wow. >> exactly. >> hinojosa: what does it feel like? i mean, actually, you tweeted about it. you were tweeting bilingually at the time. >> absolutely. >> hinojosa: and you kind of clued us in that it was nerve-wracking. >> i mean, at first, you know, you're sitting there, and you're ready for the countdown, the countdown's beginning, and the first... the three engines start. so you hear the noises of the engines, and you feel a slight vibration in the crew cabin. and then the two solid rocket boosters light up, and then the noise goes up by an order of magnitude, the vibration goes up by an order of magnitude. you think it's... the whole
ship's going to fall to the side. just when you think... >> hinojosa: and you're just sitting there. >> right. and just when you think that you feel like someone pushes you from behind, and you're off to the races. >> now, you were obviously watching the countdown. you knew it was coming. but there's no way to kind of prepare for that. >> no. i mean, we do a lot of simulations, but we don't prepare for the physiology effects of blasting off into space. >> hinojosa: so you write about how you felt, like at one point... this is when you're going to blast off into the next level, right, the g force. >> yes. >> hinojosa: explain that. >> well, it's only eight and a half minutes to get up into space. the first four minutes, it's almost like being on a roller coaster, you know, going up at a high speed. and then the... >> hinojosa: oh, god, i just can't imagine. i'm like... but, you know, with a roller coaster, you know where the other end... this is just like... >> right. and then the second four and a half minutes you start feeling the acceleration, or the g forces. and they come right through your
chest. and at first, you know, it feels like... i have five kids, so i know how this feels. it feels like you have a newborn baby on your chest. you feel like something's there, but it doesn't bother you. and then as you get closer to the eight and a half minutes, when you finally reach into space, that g force grows, and, you know, that little baby's grown up to, like, my 16-year-old kid, you know, big boy. >> hinojosa: sitting on your chest. >> sitting on my chest. and so you're ready for the main engine cutoff, because as soon as that happens, the g forces disappear, and now you're sort of floating in space. but, you know, you have the seat belt on, so you know you're floating, but you're restrained with the seat belt. >> hinojosa: and you were actually the... >> i was the flight engineer, mission specialist number two. >> hinojosa: so you have the two... >> you have the commander, who's a pilot. and then you have the pilot. and i'm sitting in between both of them, a little aft. and so basically, in my opinion, it's the best view in the house. because, you know, i have the
whole full panoramic view of the front window, and am able to see everything. >> hinojosa: so you had dreamt about doing this for so long. there you are in a rocket ship, taking off. and when you actually realized, "i'm in space," i mean, do astronauts cry? >> i'm not sure they cry. >> hinojosa: oh, come on. >> but, you know, you do get sentimental, you do get choked up. >> hinojosa: (speaking spanish) >> (speaking spanish) you do get choked up, you know, in the sense that you start thinking about, you know, the... all the sacrifices and all the work that went into it, and then it's finally paying off, and you ask yourself, "god," you know, "was it all worth it?" and you're looking at the earth from a perspective few humans have the privilege to look at it. and i tell myself, "yeah, it was worth it." all those sacrifices were worth it in terms of being able to reach a dream of being able to go into space. >> hinojosa: so what was your
fascination with... i mean, it wasn't like you, as a little kid, said, "i absolutely know i want to become an astronaut, and i'm going to become a pilot." there was something that was actually quite mystical about your decision to want to become an astronaut. >> well, i think it was a series of events that occurred throughout my life that directed me towards that direction. first, i was about ten years old when i remembered the one and only space mission, which was apollo 17. and there we were, sitting in the living room, my... >> hinojosa: and you were in mexico or in the united states? >> we were in the united states. we had an old black and white tv, you know, the type that looks more like a piece of furniture, the integrated speakers on the side and the four little legs. >> hinojosa: that was the same one that i was sitting next to. >> big honking knob to change the channel. >> hinojosa: the antenna. >> and then we had the rabbit ear antennas, because we
certainly couldn't afford cable, and we didn't have a big outside antenna. and of course, when something important came on, i was the youngest in the family, so my parents always asked me to change the channel or adjust the antenna to... >> hinojosa: "jose, (speaking spanish)." >> exactly, exactly. and, you know, we also had... we also lost what's called the horizontal synch, so you had that black bar, and you had to hit it on the side so it would stop, fix itself. that was our tv. and i remember my dad would always ask me to change the channel or adjust the tv. and i would tell my dad, i would say, "you know, dad," i said, "they have new tvs now that are color and have remote control." you know, here i'm making very subtle suggestions to my parents. and my dad would say, "(speaking spanish)," he says, "(speaking spanish) why do i want remote control when i have you?" >> hinojosa: aww. >> and said, "and you want
color, use your imagination, you'll get all the color you want." so he had a practical answer for everything. but there i was, one day, like every family who had a tv in those days, glued to the tv with walter cronkite giving the play-by-play of moonwalks for apollo 17. and our family was no different. and of course, i adjusted the tv. and, you know, one of the things is, once you grab the antenna, you're kind of stuck there, because you're well grounded, and the first thing the family tells you is, "stay there." so here i am watching the images as best i can. i kid with my siblings now. i tell them that it was through osmosis that i became an astronaut, because all the waves passed through my body and programmed me to become an astronaut. >> hinojosa: but did you literally, at that moment, when you were watching the space walk, did you... was it that moment when you said, "i'm going to become an astronaut"?
>> well, it was... >> hinojosa: because, i mean, there were a lot of kids who probably said, "wow, how cool," but... >> well, i mean, what really fascinated... it captivated me. because, you know, once the family had their fill of watching, they would graciously let me let go of the antenna, and i would sit in front of the tv and watch it for long periods of time. then i would go outside and i would see the moon, and it was full. and i would make the trek back to the tv, sit down for another five, ten minutes, and go back out and see the moon. and i said, "i can't believe they're up there right now." so it was a big fascination, a big fascination. and i said, "you know, that's what i want to do. i want to do that when i grow up. i want to be an astronaut." and i'm sure every ten-year-old wanted to do that. >> hinojosa: probably. but not every ten-year-old who was saying that was the son of migrant farm workers who had part of his family still living in mexico, and was spending his
time in the united states as a migrant. so the dream of a migrant farm worker boy who was picking fruits and vegetables seven days a week throughout the summer, to then say, "i want to become an astronaut"... >> well, i think the dream even got nurtured even earlier before that. you know, i thank my upbringing for creating this dream. when we used to go out in the fields, we used to go in (speaking spanish), you know, which was still dark, dawn. right before dawn we would go out to the fields. and of course the fields are away from the city, so there's no light pollution. and i remember the first thing i would like to do was get out of the car, and i would just stare up at the sky. and you could see the stars so clear. it was majestic, in a sense. and so that sort of started my fascination with the stars in the sky. and then watching the apollo 17
astronauts walk on the moon, i mean, that sort of solidified the dream. but it wasn't until i was a senior in high school that i heard the news that really sort of sealed the deal, if you will, of me becoming an astronaut. and that was when i heard that the first hispanic american, latino american, got selected as a nasa astronaut. of course, that's dr. franklin chang-diaz. and i started researching everything about dr. franklin chang-diaz, and i found out that he came from very humble beginnings, from costa rica, to come and study here in the states. he had brown skin like i did. he talked english with a... he spoke english with an accent, just like i did. and i said, "well, if he was able to do it, why can't i do it?" >> hinojosa: you know, you were, though, one of the most... what people would perceive to be one
of the most powerless people in this country. you were born in this country, so you were a citizen, and you had that power. but for all intents and purposes, i mean, in this moment in history, right now... this was 25, 30 years ago, 40 years ago. but right now, those migrant farm workers with their children who are picking out fruits and vegetables are seen as problem people. and you turn that all around and say, "from a farm worker, i'm an astronaut." what's the power in that? what do you want people to see beyond that? what is the message there of... in essence, of your life? i think it's a... it could serve as a good example of what is possible here in america, of any individual, if given the opportunity to obtain a good
education, and work in this country, as much of our people want to do... i think there's a lot of misinformation being given out to the american people with respect to what these individuals are... for example, being a burden to the government, which is probably farther less than the truth, in the sense that a lot of these individuals will work, pay... you know, get withheld from income taxes, and because of their documentation status, won't fill out any income taxes, and the government gets to keep all that money. so in essence i think they do pay their taxes, and they do try to live good lives here. they're just seeking an
opportunity. and, you know, this country was built upon migrants, immigrants from europe and all over the world. and that's what made this country so great. so why change the formula now? >> hinojosa: you're very proud of your latinoness, of your mexicanness, of your migrant worker background. and you've just talked about that. you... when you came back from space, you made a statement that got a lot of attention. basically you said that undocumented immigrants should be not seen as, you know, horrible people, they should be treated well, right? but most people were just like, "oh, my god, an astronaut just said that?" why choose to kind of get out in front of this issue? was it on purpose, or why? what motivates you to be out in front of this issue? >> i'm not sure if it was on purpose. i think the question was just posed to me, and i answered it as honestly as i could. and, you know, i still stand by
those statements of what i said. i think the media misconstrued my statements by saying that i was supporting the legalization of 12 million undocumented workers, which wasn't what i said. i said there should be a path, an opportunity for them to be able to move forward. and, you know, i caveat that by saying that that's my personal opinion, because that's the other issue, is that as an astronaut i also have an obligation to nasa and the government in terms of making sure, you know, undue attention doesn't come to them because of what my statements are. but, you know... >> hinojosa: but there was a tremendous authenticity. i mean, people could in essence get that you were just speaking from the heart. you were not taking an official position, just speaking from the heart. now, you... when you got up there what you said was, "what struck me the most was when i was down looking at earth that i was seeing earth as it really was, as it really is, as one.
i mean, you couldn't tell where canada ended, the united states began, where the u.s. ended, mexico began, throughout latin american and europe." and you just said, "what we really need to do is get every world leader to see our planet from this perspective." so for you it's not just... it's literally a world vision. >> exactly, that's right. it's not a u.s.-mexico issue, or a u.s.-latin america issue. i think it's more of a... going into space created that "a-ha" moment, you know? you get that "a-ha" moment where you say, "i get it." and that's what we're trying to... you know, that's what i was trying to capture by saying that statement, is that it would be great to give that opportunity to every world leader so they can... they too can get that "ah-hah" moment.
>> hinojosa: so for you this is still very emotional. >> yeah. >> hinojosa: i mean, you allow yourself to get teared up about this, because you don't feel like... i mean, you feel like our world is divided, and... tell me. >> no, i think there's always room for improvement in our world. you know, there's conflict throughout the world, and, you know, i think we ought to all try and strive and work to make it a much better place. and if making statements like those can help... i hope it's not hindering. i don't think it's hindering. but if it's able to help, or at least gets one... the president of mexico or the president of the u.s. to think about it a bit more, than to me it's worth it. >> hinojosa: so you have become this... you really have understood how to use technology
in every sense of the world-- not only in terms of spaceships, but in terms of tweeting. and you have 150,000 followers. you tweet bilingually. you in essence... part of what your mission would be is not just in terms of reaching out to students in this country, latino and non latino, but you want latin america, you want latin american young people to look at you and say, "we need our own space programs coming out of latin america as well." what's your motive? what do you want to inspire? >> i think what i want to inspire is give... create an environment in latin american countries where the young kids, the young talent in those countries, one day graduate from the universities, can develop their careers in their own countries. because i think the... and i keep saying that the wealth in every county is not the natural
resources. it's the intellectual resources. and we should cultivate that. technology is going to be the future of prosperity for countries. and the sooner latin american countries get on board with that idea and start nurturing the intellectual resources that they have, and creating... not just creating opportunities for the kids to study, but creating opportunities for companies to form in those countries, so the kids when they do graduate don't feel a need to have to leave the country to europe or the u.s. to work in their careers, that's what we need to do. and that's what i'm pushing for. >> hinojosa: so your dad would say something often to you when you would get out from picking the vegetables, and he would say, you know, "how do you guys feel," right? >> that's right. >> hinojosa: and you guys would say? >> "tired," or "dusty, sweaty." >> hinojosa: and then he would say, "remember, because if you don't go to school, this is what your life is going to be like." >> exactly, exactly.
>> hinojosa: at the same time, your parents... there might be some people who say, "well, but your parents were migrant workers, and they were making you work in the farms, and your parents were moving you around from place to place." and it wasn't until one teacher actually made the effort to come to your house and sit down with your mom and dad in what i imagine was a very nonjudgmental way and actually just took the time to explain to your mom and dad, "you need to stop moving, you need to stop traveling between two countries, you need to stay in one place so that your kids can go to school..." >> that's correct. >> hinojosa: and then your mom and dad were like, "oh, okay." >> that's right. >> hinojosa: that time of one teacher to come without judgment, how important was that in your life? >> well, i think it's very important. i always like to tell this story to teachers, because i realize a lot of teachers, you know, sometimes get frustrated.
they certainly aren't paid what i think they should be paid. they're severely underpaid. it's a very noble career. and i like telling this story, because, you know, to that second grade teacher, mrs. young, you know, what she did, you know, she considered very insignificant. but then you look at the results, and, you know, they're pretty significant. and so that's why i like to tell it to the teachers, so that they can reflect upon that and say, "hey," you know, even the little things that they do will make an impact on a child. and so, you know, imagine what would have happened... you know, i'm sure i would have gone to college and did all right for myself even if she hadn't come and visited. but the fact that she did i think gave me all the opportunities to basically focus
on what i really wanted to do, which was become an astronaut. and, you know, to end the story on a happy ending, i'm happy to say that, you know, i sought her out, and i did invite her to my launch, and she appeared at my launch. >> hinojosa: oh, my god, oh, i get chills. >> yeah. >> hinojosa: now, a lot of people think, "oh, well, you know, you just went to school, and you got a degree, and then you became an astronaut." and in fact, you tried for 12 years. i mean, i'm sure nasa was probably like, "who is this jose hernandez? he doesn't stop." because you actually have to apply to be allowed in. and 12 years you were rejected. >> mm-hmm. >> hinojosa: and you just said, "okay, i'm going to try one more time." >> that's correct. >> hinojosa: where did you get that ability, that "i'm not going to back down"? >> well, i mean, it's kind of like the... you know, it's a lot different when you're shooting for that... it's similar to, like, shooting to become a major
league baseball player, or major league basketball player or football player. but the big difference in shooting for being an astronaut was that for me to be an astronaut i had to first become an engineer, which means i had to get a good education. and then i had to maneuver my career, which i did, consistent with what i thought nasa would look at me in terms of favorable with respect to the experience i was gaining. and using that formula, every decision i made in my career throughout those 12 years before getting selected as an astronaut, as an engineer i was making those decisions. but those decisions were resulting in me having a great career as an engineer at lawrence livermore national lab. and so the consolation prize to me, i kept trying, because my career was going in a great trajectory. the formula i was using was helping my personal career.
and so the consolation was, what's the worst that's going to happen? i'm going to be a great engineer, which isn't too shabby. >> hinojosa: no, not at all. >> on the other hand, this is what i tell the kids, is you have to be careful if you want to be a professional soccer player, professional baseball player, what's the fallback position? my fallback position is i'm an engineer, and i'm going to have a great career as an engineer. they need to have a fallback and make sure they get a good education. >> hinojosa: right, but you also basically say if you knew how long it was going to take and what you needed to do and all the studying, you might have walked away. sometimes... do you feel that sometimes young kids, particularly latino kids, kids of color, sometimes close the doors on themselves? although, of course, when they see you, when you come to their schools, like you did here in boston, these kids must just be like, "oh, my god, i could do this." but is there a part of you that worries that sometimes, you know, maybe some of these kids are thinking, "i can't, i'm not smart enough"? >> well, yeah. i mean, i think... you know, i
look back and see what motivated me, and it was this astronaut, dr. franklin chang-diaz, who i never had met up to that point, yet he had such a profound impact in... i guess in believing in yourself, to be able to achieve that goal, that now, you know, i sort of use that as a tool, or as a justification that says, "well, imagine... i didn't meet him in person. imagine what kind of effect i can have if the kids do meet me in person, and do see me, and do see the similarities between themselves and myself?" and i think what you're trying to do... what you end up doing is you're empowering the young kids to believe in themselves, and i like to think that i'm giving them a license to dream. >> hinojosa: and you also like the fact that... to kind of remind them that you're a very real human being, that you have flaws, that you came from this
humble background. but the reality is even today you were like, "yeah, i look great right now, but two days ago, i was washing dishes." >> at my wife's restaurant, that's right. >> hinojosa: at your wife's restaurant. an amazing partnership, you and your wife, and your family likes to say that they keep you grounded. so in the last minute that we have, the importance of family? >> i think it's very important. i think it's important for the kids to see that, you know, regardless of what the parents are able to achieve, you know, that all said and done, you know, we're still their parents, and they still have to... you know, we have expectations that they need to do, you know, chores they have to do, and we have responsibilities in terms of activities that support their activities, and it's very important, very important to provide that nurturing environment, to give them their chance to... or their license to dream, and their chance to achieve those dreams. >> hinojosa: and thank you for
- [voiceover] funding for overheard with evan smith is provided in part by mfi foundation. improving the quality of life within our community. also by hillco partners. a texas government affairs consultancy. and by the alice kleberg reynolds foundation. - i'm evan smith she's an acclaimed poet, critic and novelist best known for the handmaid's tale, cat's eye, the blind assassin, and oryx and crake. her latest book the heart goes last has just been published. she's margaret atwood this is overheard. (inspiring music) (applause) - [evan] let's be honest is this about the ability to learn or about the experience of not having to talk at all. how have you avoided what has befallen other nations in africa-- you say that he had made his own bed, but you caused him to sleep in it. you saw a problem and over time took it on-- (laughter) let's start with the sizzle before we get to the steak. are you going to run for president?