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Celebrating the first 'Mexican' astronaut: Out of this world!

August 24, 2009 | 12:09 pm

This week’s planned launch of the space shuttle Discovery is getting special attention in Mexico. The seven-member crew includes astronaut Jose Hernandez, the California-born son of Mexican immigrants and suddenly a national hero here, as well.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon considers Hernandez a paisano -- the president and the astronaut’s parents come from the same Mexican state of Michoacan. Calderon telephoned Hernandez over the weekend and in a televised exchange wished him “an enormous congratulation, with all our admiration, all our affection and all our pride.”

Calderon invited Hernandez down to the presidential palace for a chat and a meal, once he’s returned from outer space. He thanked Hernandez for taking the name of Mexico to new heights.

Hernandez’s parents, Salvador and Julia, migrated to northern California in the 1950s in search of work. They eventually became U.S. citizens and raised four children, all of whom, young Jose included, helped toil in the fields, picking cucumbers and tomatoes. As a kid, Hernandez continued to visit his parents’ Michoacan homeland, where cousins and aunts and uncles were being interviewed this week by the Mexican press.

“Even when he was young he loved to study the stars,” cousin Alma Rosa Mendez recalled at home in La Piedad in Michoacan. “He’d say, ‘One day I will travel to the moon.’ And we’d say, ‘Yeah, sure.’ "

Mexico City’s main morning news/chat show featured lengthy reports today on Hernandez, 47, and his family’s humble Mexican origins. They included an interview with Hernandez from last year, where he told the host that he planned to take on his voyage to the International Space Station a small Mexican flag and a statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe. He also showed what he said were freeze-dried tacos, ready to go into orbit.

You can watch parts (in Spanish) here and read more about foods for space travelers here.

--Tracy Wilkinson in Mexico City

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