Multi-American

How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

More astronautas in the news: NASA's first Latino astronaut inducted into Hall of Fame

There's been more than the usual amount of news lately regarding Latinos and space travel (as is if there ever is much), thanks to former NASA astronaut Jose Hernandez's candidacy for U.S. House of Representatives. And now there's more.

The U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame has inducted NASA's first Latino astronaut, Franklin Chang-Diaz, a retired astronaut who was a Space Shuttle crew member and participated in the building of the International Space Station.

Like Hernandez, who grew up working in the fields as part of a farm worker family, Chang has a great back story: He came to the U.S. as an immigrant in his late teens from Costa Rica, where he was born, and is of Chinese descent on his father's side. He eventually made it to MIT, becoming not only an astronaut but an expert in plasma-based rocket propulsion technology, a science he continues to devote himself to as president of his own rocket technology company in Texas.

There is a long list of Latinos who have made it into space, in fact. The first was a Cuban, Arnaldo Tamayo Méndez, who flew with a Soviet Soyuz mission in 1980.

Voters will soon determine if one of these astronautas makes it into Congress. Hernandez, who also served on the Space Shuttle crew and left NASA last year, is running for office as a Democrat and is described on the June primary ballot  as a "astronaut/scientist/engineer." As a scientist, his accomplishments are impressive: In the early 1990s, according to one NASA bio, his work led to the development of the first full-field digital mammography imaging system.

In March, a Republican-affiliated Sacramento law firm filed a legal challenge against Hernandez, arguing that he couldn't call himself "astronaut" on the ballot after having left NASA. A judge ruled against the lawsuit in late March.

Interestingly, in his 2004 NASA bio, Hernandez was quoted on how he was inspired to become an astronaut as a teenager by Chang-Diaz:

"I was hoeing a row of sugar beets in a field near Stockton, Calif., and I heard on my transistor radio that Franklin Chang-Diaz had been selected for the Astronaut Corps," says Hernandez, 41, who was a senior in high school at the time.

"I was already interested in science and engineering," Hernandez remembers, "but that was the moment I said, 'I want to fly in space.' And that's something I've been striving for each day since then."

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