Astronaut and Engineer
Tuesday, October 25, 2018 · Evans Auditorium · 7 p.m.
José Hernández, a former migrant farmworker, was selected by NASA as a member of their 19th class of astronauts in 2004. After completing his training, he was selected for a mission in 2007 and flew as the flight engineer in the 2009 14-day STS-128 mission aboard Space Shuttle Discovery to the International Space Station. In addition to his flight engineer duties, Hernández was also one of two principal robotic arm operators and the first to tweet in English and Spanish from space.
Before being selected as an astronaut, he worked at NASA as the Branch Chief of the Materials and Processes Branch at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. There he oversaw the branch’s activities in the areas of materials and processes, fracture control, nondestructive evaluation, failure analysis, and nanomaterials research. His branch was also instrumental in participating in the investigation to help find the root cause of the Space Shuttle Columbia accident and reporting those results to the President’s Columbia Accident Investigation Board.
Prior to his time with NASA, Hernández spent more than 15 years at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), where he worked on the development of a space deployed X-Ray laser as part of the Strategic Defense Initiative. He then went on to co-develop the first full-field digital mammography system for the earlier detection of breast cancer — thus opening a new area of research called computer-aided diagnosis — and was recognized by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for this important contribution. He was also the Deputy Program Manager of the Highly Enriched Uranium Implementation program, where his team was in charge of implementing a signed bilateral agreement between the U.S. and Russian Federation for the U.S. purchase of highly enriched uranium (HEU) in the form of low enriched uranium (LEU), derived from the dismantlement of Russian nuclear weapons.
After his 2009 space mission, Hernández was assigned to work at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C., where he served as a legislative analyst and helped in the development of space policy and NASA’s annual budget package; he also served as liaison with key Congressional members. Additional duties included the development of an effective strategy that promoted the President’s new vision on space exploration.
Hernández is a former candidate for U.S. Congress and the author of several books, including his autobiography, Reaching for the Stars, and the children’s version, The Boy Who Touched the Stars.
Today, he works as a consultant within the company he founded in 2012, Tierra Luna Engineering. He provides his expertise in business development and strategic operations to help clients develop optimum growth solutions through an integrated approach. He focuses these efforts on companies involved in aerospace technologies and renewable energies.
Hernández has been the recipient of numerous awards, including NASA Service Awards (2002, 2003), Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory "Outstanding Engineer Award" (2001), Upward Bound National TRiO Achiever Award (2001), U.S. Department of Energy "Outstanding Performance Commendation" (2000), Society of Mexican American Engineers and Scientists (MAES) "Medalla de Oro" recipient for professional and community contributions (1999), and the Hispanic Engineer National Achievement Award for “Outstanding Technical Contribution” (1995). Hernández has been awarded 7 honorary doctorate degrees including his alma mater, University of the Pacific.