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Astronaut inspires students to reach high
Jose M. Hernandez stood before students at Blaker Kinser Junior High School Monday and told them the way he rose from picking vegetables in the field to soaring above the earth on the Space Shuttle Discovery was determination and education.

The 49-year-old engineer and former astronaut- who next month is on the ballot for the 10th Congressional race - imparted wisdom to students about accomplishing goals. He stayed away from politics and explained how education led him to a better life.

"I want to make sure that you're not setting your goals so low," Hernandez told students at a schoolwide assembly. "It's okay to set your eyes on real high goals."

Born in French Camp to migrant farm workers from Michoacán, Mexico, he worked alongside his family picking crops in the fields of California, harvesting crops and moving from one town to another.

"While everybody loved summer vacation, the Hernandez kids hated it because that meant we had to work seven days a week in the fields," noted Hernandez, who didn't learn English until he was 12.

He remembered, after one long day of work of picking cucumbers, that his father looked at his kids sitting in the back seat and asked them how they felt. Jose related that his father suggested that if they wanted an easier life that they needed to be serious about getting a good education.

"My mother always said not if you go to college but when you go to college."

"Prepare yourself so you do go to college," he said. "That's the key to a better life - a higher education."

When he was nine, Hernandez was enthralled to see on TV Gene Cernan walking on the moon during the final Apollo mission in 1972. He decided then he wanted to be an astronaut. His father gave him a "five-step recipe for success": knowing the goal, realizing how far the goal of the dream was, drawing a detailed life road map to get there, getting an education and employing the same work ethic he learned in the fields.

"I would add perseverance," said Hernandez, who was turned down by NASA 11 times before being selected as an astronaut candidate in May 2004.

Each time he failed he asked himself, "What do those guys have that I don't?" That meant learning to be a pilot, learning Russian, and attaining a scuba diver rating.

He eventually flew on the shuttle after being assigned to the crew of Space Shuttle mission STS-128 which launched on August 28, 2009. While in orbit, Hernandez became the first person to use the Spanish language in space while tweeting.

Hernandez explained that riding aboard the shuttle was the highlight of his life. The whole craft shook violently when the rockets fired up and he rose from zero to 17,500 miles per hour in 8.5 minutes. At that point he was 300 miles above Earth, encircling it every 90 minutes. The shuttle flew around the Earth 214 times and flew 4 million miles.

"We can be whatever we want to be," Hernandez told students. "Usually we are our own worst enemy and set barriers, being afraid of tackling a goal because we think it's too hard. And that's not necessarily the case. You just have to keep trying."

Hernandez graduated from Franklin High School in Stockton, and then was involved in the Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement (MESA) program, an academic preparation program that provides support to poor students so they may attain degrees in science, technology, engineering or math fields. He earned a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from the University of the Pacific in 1984 before going on to earn an M.S. in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the University of California at Santa Barbara.

Hernandez worked from 1987 to 2001 at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore. While there, he helped develop the first full-field digital mammography imaging system which aids in the early detection of breast cancer.

Hernandez, a Democrat who was urged to run for Congress by President Obama, is running against incumbent Republican Rep. Jeff Denham. Chad Condit, son of former Rep. Gary Condit, is also running in the race.