Instructed by his father, 9-year-old Jose Hernandez marched up to the family television set to wriggle the rabbit-ears antenna, hoping to sharpen the black-and-white image of American men walking on the moon. It was December 1972, during Apollo 17, and Hernandez was transfixed.
“I would go outside, look at the moon, and come back inside and look at the images on TV. I remember being all of 9 years old and telling my parents, ‘That’s what I want to do when I grow up,’” he recalled. And he did it. He became an engineer and applied to be an astronaut 12 times before he finally made the cut in 2004. Then he made just one trip to space before hanging up his flight suit for good last month.
It wasn’t because he’d realized his dream and moved on. It was because there was nothing in this country for him to fly.