Ex-Migrant Worker Set to Blast off on Shuttle

Shuttle astronaut Jose Hernandez set to blast off on Discovery

By Monica Dean
|  Tuesday, Aug 25, 2009  |  Updated 3:07 PM PDT
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Gallery: Space Shuttle Lands at NAS JRB

Hernandez was born in the U.S. to Mexican migrant workers.

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Ex-Migrant Worker Set to Blast off on Space Shuttle

A North County family is counting down the hours until the space shuttle Discovery lifts off -- and for good reason: They'll have a loved one on board during blastoff.
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A North County family is still counting down the hours until the space shuttle Discovery lifts off -- and for good reason: They'll have a loved one on board during blastoff.

The Discovery's scheduled launch on Monday night was postponed due to thunderstorms. NASA scrubbed again on Wednesday; whenever liftoff takes place, it will be the first trip to space for astronaut Jose Hernandez.

"There's no words to say how proud we are," said Hernandez's sister-in-law Graciela Duarte. 

Duarte owns Pacific Taco Shop 1 in Escondido. The family has posted Hernandez's picture and story on the front doors of the family business.  Duarte said customers are impressed.

"Even they get excited about knowing somebody who knows somebody," she said.

Her brother-in-law grew up picking crops with his family in San Joaquin County, Duarte said.

"For somebody who wants to go up in space, he's the most down-to-earth guy," Duarte said. "The nicest guy, will do anything for you."

Family members said his parents insisted he focus on school. He excelled in math and science, and dreamed of one day being an astronaut.  Duarte said Hernandez's story has inspired the entire family.

"You can come from nothing, and anything can be accomplished if you set your mind to it," she said.

Duarte said it wasn't easy for Hernandez. He attended college, then grad school and received a string of rejections from NASA. 

"And like he said: 'I did not give up on the first, the third, the fifth,' until he finally made it," Duarte said.

Hernandez now lives in Stockton, Calif., with his wife and five children. He has been with NASA since 2004, waiting for his turn to launch.

"It gives us hope to accomplish things in our lives that we thought we might not be able to do," Duarte said.

Mexico's president, Felipe Calderon, has invited Hernandez to dinner when he returns from space.

Calderon said he's "very happy" Hernandez is putting Mexico's name in space.

Also on board the Discovery will be San Diego County native and mission commander Rick Sturkow, who was raised on a farm in Lakeside and graduated from Grossmont High in 1978.

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