Hey, friends. Barbarella here, still feeling a little like I’m floating after speaking with José Hernández about the movie based on his life, A MILLION MILES AWAY. Available now on Amazon Prime, the film stars Michael Peña in the role of an immigrant farmer with out-of-this-world dreams. Young José has a gift for numbers, and his family struggles to find a way to give him a future outside of the harsh farm work they endure to make ends meet. It’s a beautiful story of dreams, sacrifices, influence, and the enormous impact teachers could have on young people. True to form, I cry happy tears on more than one occasion throughout the film.
While the film hits all my feel buttons, speaking with the film's subject leaves me a little over the moon. I've never met a real astronaut before, so it is an exciting first for me. Check it out!
I love the car in the movie. How accurate was it to the car that you had?
“This one was a ‘62. I know my Chevy impalas. I owned a ‘64. It had three back lights. That’s how I know it was a little different. Mine was jet black, and it had pinstripes, roses on the side, not the butterflies, but other than that it was the same type of car, and it looked the same, and I did have a chain steering wheel. Yes, I did.”
When they make movies based on true stories, they take a lot of liberties. How was this movie different from your actual experience?
“You know, I think very few liberties were taken in the movie; it was pretty accurate. But having said that, you gotta realize, when you try to put a whole life and condense it into a two-hour story, there are going to be [some changes]. The minor things that I saw were the combining of several characters into one character to save time, and maybe switching a little bit of the timeline so that it makes it flow better, but other than that, Barbara, everything was pretty accurate.”
I got the impression that the underwater exercises were the most challenging for you. What was the most challenging for you in the training?
“That was one of the most challenging because we actually did it three times, Barbara. You can’t unbuckle your seatbelt until you’re down at the bottom upside down, and you had hit the ground. The first time they say “Get out anyway you can.” The second time, they assign exits so you crisscross each other, and you work as a team, and the third time they actually give you some black goggles, and you gotta get out by feel. It was pretty traumatic, and we all pushed each other and supported each other, and we all got through it.”
You’re the first person I’ve ever talked with who’s actually been in space. That’s amazing.
“Words cannot do it justice, Barbara. When you’re up there floating, you feel like a superhero, because it’s so unnatural that you’re continuously floating. You push yourself from one wall to propel yourself, and you can do your best Superman impersonation. In orbit, you go around the world once every ninety minutes. It’s so awesome.”
That’s incredible. I don’t feel like we saw a whole lot of your kids’ reactions to your training and everything. What was that like for them?
“You know, it’s funny that you ask, Barbara. For them, it was kind of natural because they were really small when I got selected. As I went through the training, we lived near Johnson Space Center in the community Clear Lake City, and the kids went to an elementary school where other astronaut kids were there. It wasn’t like they were anything special. Every classroom had at least one astronaut kid in the classroom, so they kind of thought it was all normal. It wasn’t until we left, and we came back to California, and they went to high school here that they found out dad is a pretty big deal here. They finally realized the impact that I was having in terms of motivating kids and motivating in my conferences.”
I feel like in the movie, your wife has all the best suggestions and ideas. Is that accurate?
“Isn’t that always the case, Barb? My wife knows best. She is the pillar; she’s the foundation of our family, and certainly without her, I couldn’t have achieved the goals that I did. It is true after the sixth rejection, I was ready to give up, and she asked that profound question, “What do they have that you don’t have?” I never asked myself that question. Maybe I should ask, and maybe I should answer, and then maybe I should do what they have to make sure I’m more competitive, and that’s what happened, so thanks to her, I got selected.”
Of all the different types of training you did, what was the most fun for you?
“I think the most fun for me was when we did survival training. They would drop us off in groups of eight to ten, and they would give you a map, a satellite phone, literally no food, no water, and they would say, “Okay, in fourteen days, your pick-up point is over there," and it’s about a fourteen-day hike, so it’s not like you could slack it or that kind of thing. It was like one of these adult cool camping trips. You had to sort of trap some food and learn how to eat some insects and root systems and things of that nature, but it was a lot of fun, and it builds camaraderie. You look at what people’s strengths and weaknesses are, and you build from that, and you support each other, so I thought that was very enjoyable.”
What was one thing missing from the film that you wish had been included?
“Probably, the fact that I left NASA and why I left it. It was because they retired the space shuttle fleet, and the only way to go into space was going and training with the Russians on the Russian rocket, but the fact that it involved three-year training, and you’re gonna be up there for six months, and then you go on the road for six months. You’re gonna be gone out of the house 80% of the time for the next four or five years. I have five kids, and they were reaching their adolescent age, and it was the hardest decision I made, but I decided to leave NASA so I could raise my family with my wife. That was a very tough decision. I wish that would’ve been on there, too.”
A MILLION MILES AWAY is now available on Amazon Prime. Check out the trailer!