Latino astronaut inspires SJ high school students

SAN JOSE, Calif.

NASA engineer and astronaut Jose Hernandez has been to space and back. The journey and his story are what brought this high school audience to its feet.

"Being an astronaut and a Latino, I feel like he brings so much energy to us to have more dreams," student Oscar Cruz said.

Hernandez spoke to the students of Latino College Preparatory Academy to inspire and connect -- and he did.

"Seeing you here right now, I see so much of myself in you," he said.

Hernandez began his working life as a young boy in the farm fields of California. His parents wanted more for their children and insisted education was the answer.

"She never talked about 'I hope you go to college, if you go to college.' She always said, 'if you go to college, when you go to college,'" he said.

It was a master's degree and hard work that earned Hernandez the title of NASA astronaut in 2006. He was aboard the space shuttle Discovery in August of 2009 on a 14-day mission to the International Space Station.

Hernandez told the students he applied to NASA's astronaut program for 12 years before finally being selected. The combination of the message and the messenger hit home.

"Seeing someone from our culture, doing something that great is very inspirational for someone like me," student Stephanie Rodriguez said.

Cameras captured the visit in pictures, but the impact of the words could last a lifetime.

"What's important is don't be afraid to dream. With a good education and a solid work ethic, any dream can be converted to a goal and be fulfilled," Hernandez said.

Hernandez started the day telling the students he could see himself in them and in just hours, they saw the same reflection.

The launch of the final space shuttle mission is scheduled for Monday, although there could be one more after that if Congress appropriates the money.

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