NASA engineer José M. Hernández wanted to be an astronaut ever since he heard
that the first Hispanic-American had been chosen to travel into space. Hernández, then a high school senior, heard the news while hoeing sugar beets in Stockton, California.
Already interested in science and engineering, Hernández decided at that moment that he would become an astronaut, and has worked toward that goal every day since. It paid off. Hernández was selected to begin training as a mission specialist as part of the 2004 astronaut candidate class. One of four children in a migrant farming family from Mexico, Hernández, who didn't learn English until he was 12, spent much of his childhood on what he calls "the California circuit," traveling with his family from Mexico to Southern California each March, then working northward to the Stockton area by November, picking strawberries and cucumbers at farms along the route. Then, they would return to Mexico for Christmas, and start the cycle all over again come spring.
After graduating high school, Hernández enrolled at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, where he earned a degree in electrical engineering and was awarded a full scholarship to the graduate program at the University of California, Santa Barbara, to continue his engineering studies.
In 1987, he accepted a full-time job with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, where he had worked in college. While there, Hernández worked on signal and image processing applications in radar imaging, computed tomography, and acoustic imaging. Later in his career, Hernández worked on developing quantitative X-ray film imaging analysis techniques for the X-ray laser
program. He applied these techniques in the medical physics arena, and co-developed the first full-field digital mammography imaging system.
This system has proven useful for detecting breast cancer at an earlier stage than present film/screen mammography methods. He has also worked in the international arena, representing Lawrence Livermore and the U.S. Department of Energy on Russian nuclear nonproliferation issues.