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Interview: José Hernández Moreno talks about the journey to space behind “A Million Miles Away”

By September 13, 2023September 15th, 2023No Comments4 min read

A Million Miles Away, a new biopic directed by Alejandra Márquez Abella, is set to release on Amazon Prime this weekend. The film explores the inspiring true story of José Hernández Moreno, one of the few people of Latin American origin to visit the International Space Station as part of NASA’s 19th astronaut class. Before you watch Michael Peña bring him to life in Amazon Studio’s latest film, it’s important to know a bit more about this astronaut’s remarkable story of determination and perseverance.

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Hernández Moreno is the son of immigrant workers from Michoacan, who regularly traveled between Mexico and the U.S. working in fruit and vegetable farms all over California. Ever since he was a child working in fields, he had his sights set on the stars. “The dream to become an astronaut started when I was 10 years old. I remember the Apollo 17 mission. Imagine this, a 10-year-old fixing the TV antenna to see better and running back and forth between watching the full moon and the astronaut walking on it. He spoke with a lot of intent. I also remember Walter Cronkite narrating it. That’s when I realized,” he said in an interview for NASA in 2021.

A five-step recipe

That same night he told his dad he wanted to be an astronaut and, while many parents can easily dismiss that as just a childish claim, José’s dad provided him with a five-step recipe that ended up shaping the rest of his life. His father’s advice in turn serves as the narrative framework of Márquez Abella’s film: “My father’s recipe is very simple, it’s just five ingredients: you have to define your goal in life. Then, recognize how far you are from that goal. Third, create a route to know how to reach your goal. Fourth, prepare yourself according to the challenge you chose and work hard and put in an effort,” he said in an interview for InBetweenDrafts.  

However, José had to add an additional step to the recipe: perseverance. His path to the space program included a lot of rejections. In fact, he was turned down eleven times before being accepted in 2004. Each rejection allowed him to further reflect on the idea of perseverance and arrive at a new version of the concept, which he refers to as “strategic perseverance”.

He mentioned that it’s slightly different from the perseverance that most people are familiar with: “There is the perseverance that we know, and then strategic perseverance. I discovered it, after my sixth rejection when my wife was encouraging me to move forward. She told me: “I don’t know what they [those being selected] have that you don’t have”.  I didn’t know the answer either so I said ‘well, let’s find out.’ Then, I realized that they were all certified pilots and divers, they knew a third language. So I said, ‘I have to train more.’ Then that’s where strategy comes in, strategic perseverance,” Hernández further explained in our interview.


He added those skills to his résumé and became both a pilot and a certified diver. He even became fluent in Russian and represented the U.S. on the international scene by working on nuclear non-proliferation issues. All of this paired with his engineering career of over 15 years at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which led to breakthroughs in early breast cancer detection, eventually paid off. Hernández made it to space with NASA on a 2009 flight of the Space Shuttle Discovery to the International Space Station on board of mission STS-128.

The shuttle carried supplies and the Multi-Purpose Logistics Module Leonardo as its primary payload, which contained multiple microgravity experiments. On the way down, the Discovery took high-resolution images of the Earth as it spun 217 times around the planet. José mentioned that this was an impactful experience: “When you looked down, you could see the beauty of our Earth. Then, seeing the opposite window, you would see a window to our universe. It really makes you think about the fact that we are very small in the great scheme of the universe”. 

Although we are all a small part of the universe, this store makes it evident that human beings can achieve amazing things. In a world where multifaceted issues require us to rise to new challenges and to create out of the box solutions, it’s important to dream. José’s career is a testament to that, but dreaming is not enough. In fact, as our interview ended, I asked him for a piece of advice for today’s youth. He responded quickly: “It’s okay to dream big, but only if you are willing to fight, to put an effort, and to prepare because that’s the way to solve any challenge in front of you”.

Stream A Million Miles Away on Amazon Prime starting on September 15, 2023. Watch the trailer below.

Pedro Luis Graterol

Based in Mexico, Pedro Graterol is the News editor for TV and Film of InBetweenDrafts. He is a Venezuelan political scientist, violist, and a nerd of all things pop culture. His legal signature includes Sonic The Hedgehog’s face.

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