By Dale Skran
I hadn’t heard much about this new film from Amazon Prime Video, but after seeing a review I decided to give it a try, and was pleasantly surprised. The film follows the life of real-life Shuttle astronaut, Jose Hernandez (played wonderfully well by Michael Pena), and is based on his autobiography, Reaching for the Stars. Although very modern in tone, and suffused with Mexican culture, Million Miles feels like a message in a bottle from simpler, early times. Hernandez is born into the migrant worker culture, and starts life with perhaps only one advantage—a loving father and mother—and a father with some very old-fashioned advice about how to succeed in picking grapes, or life in general.
Pena brings a shy charm to the screen, and has terrific chemistry with his wife, Adela (played by Rosa Salazar). Mathematically talented, Jose decides to become an astronaut early on. After earning a master’s degree in electrical engineering, he ends up working at Lawrence Livermore Labs. In the movie, he makes significant contributions to the construction of x-ray lasers for missile defense, but in real life he co-developed the first mammogram scanner. Over the years he applies to be an astronaut 11 times, and is rejected 11 times. However, as the years go by, he pays on his own to learn to fly and dive, two skills many astronauts have. And on the 12th time he is accepted after he delivers the application in person to NASA.
As you might expect, things don’t go smoothly, and astronaut training proves challenging. Eventually, inspired by Kalpana Chawla (played by Sarayu Blue), he makes the grade. His final obstacle proves to be her death on Columbia, with the result that he is chosen to be part of the return to flight mission after the accident. It is never easy to be an astronaut, but one imagines that being on such a flight requires even more than the usual courage.
The special effects are impressive, and the movie heart-warming. It is easy to see the hand of Jeff Bezos here somewhere pushing a positive vision of space as a place where everyone has a future, while spinning a tale of hard work, bravery, familial love, and inspirational sacrifice featuring a mainly non-Caucasian cast. For a movie where you know the ending from the start, Million Miles is surprisingly entertaining and well-cast. A lot of folks who think they have it tough might learn something from someone like Hernandez who overcame what seems like an infinite set of obstacles to do the incredible. Recommended for NSS members, and, well, everyone.
©2023 Dale Skran