Retired astronaut Jose Hernandez is appearing at the World of Wonders Science Museum as part of its Reaching for the Stars fundraiser on Sunday, March 8.
The fundraiser, cohosted by the museum and the Lodi Lions Club to celebrate the latter’s 80th anniversary in Lodi, will celebrate all things space with Hernandez speaking, signing books and posing for photos, along with special space-themed exhibits and activities.
Local Lions have agreed to focus their fundraising for the next two years on the museum, which attracts visitors, including thousands of students, from all over Northern California. The goal is to inspire a new generation of scientists and space explorers.
Joining the Lions and the WOW in that mission is the First United Methodist Church of Lodi. The church has sponsored admission for 181 children and 63 adults for Reaching for the Stars.
“They wanted to make sure local kids and families get the opportunity to meet a real astronaut from our community,” said Jen Young, the WOW Museum’s program director.
While today's event is sold out, Hernandez touched on topics ranging from a favorite book to an upcoming Netflix movie project in a recent interview for the News-Sentinel’s Life & Leisure magazine.
Q: What classes to you recommend to young people pursuing a career in science?
A: Anything in the area of STEM is going to be useful — that’s science, technology, engineering and math.
Q: Did you have a favorite book growing up?
A: Yes. My second-grade teacher at Fillmore Elementary in Stockton, Mrs. Young, noticed my interest in space. She gave me a book called “Earth, Moon and Sun.” I have it still.
Q: What was the biggest surprise during your time in space?
A: The first time I saw the Earth from space, I was just overwhelmed to see a sight very few humans have the privilege of seeing ... we did a rotation over North America and went over Canada and the United States and Mexico in one fell swoop.
What really struck me was you couldn’t tell where one country began and the other ended; there were no borders. ... How sad to think that borders are made by man to keep us apart, keep us separate.
Q: What else stuck with you from that flight?
A: We went around the Earth every 90 minutes and we saw many sunrises and sunsets. During one sunrise, the sun’s rays hit the Earth’s atmosphere, and I realized just how thin and fragile that atmosphere is; yet the atmosphere is so crucial to us. It is the only thing keeping us all alive. And at that point I became an environmentalist. We must do everything we can to protect our environment.
Q: Do you think we will colonize space?
A: You have private industry looking at space now along with NASA and I think it won’t be too long, perhaps five years, before we go back to the Moon and establish a longer-duration base. That will speed develop of technology to allow us to go in Mars, though that is probably a good 20 or 25 years away.
Whether we can sustain life on Mars to the point of establishing a colony is still to be determined, but eventually, yes, I think we can overcome the hurdles and could very well establish colonies in space.
Q: What do you think of the persistent movement contending the Earth is flat?
A: I would not say these people are ignorant, but they are anti-establishment. They are looking for a reason to go against the grain. If the government says the Earth is round, they go the other way.
But you know, I have seen the Earth from space and I can tell you it is round. And anyone who truly studies the facts must come to that conclusion, too.
Q: What’s coming up for you?
A: Well, here’s the latest for you: I just signed a deal with Netflix to do a feature-length movie on my life. They will develop a script and then start the casting. It’s very exciting. If all goes well, they should start filming by the end of the year. ...
I continue to do consulting with various space-related enterprises and have been working with the Mexican government on their space program. ...
I continue to be interested in politics and may find the opportunity to run for Congress again if the time is right.
Q: You have a special affection for the WOW Science Museum, don’t you?
A: I do. It is a place where science and discovery are concentrated. It is a place where teachers and parents can take kids and maybe wake them up to the wonders of science. It is a place where kids can enjoy a healthy dose of discovery — and maybe that will help them decide on their path in life.
Q: You are the son of farmworkers and you became an engineer, astronaut, writer and entrepreneur. It’s quite a story. What do you think are the key ingredients in success?
A: You must embrace the challenge. You must believe you will achieve it. And it gets down to doing the work. There are no shortcuts. Nothing comes for free.
Lodi Living Editor K. Cathey contributed to this report.