Monday, August 28, 2017

Chasing Space by Leland Melvin

Chasing Space by Leland Melvin

Growing up in Lynchburg, Virginia, Leland Melvin never planned on becoming an astronaut. He had a love of chemistry as well as sports. However, Melvin found himself on an unexpected journey—one that would lead him first to the NFL, then to NASA.

An athlete from a young age, Melvin attended the University of Richmond on a football scholarship, where he would earn a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. He would also complete a master’s degree in materials science engineering at the University of Virginia. He was drafted as a wide receiver by the Detroit Lions, but was released from the team following an injury. He was then signed by the Dallas Cowboys, but another injury ended his time in the NFL.

Although his football career was over, Melvin’s academic excellence landed him on NASA’s radar. He was recruited to work at NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, where he specialized in optical fiber sensors.

Interspersed with Melvin's stories of his professional paths are moments throughout his life when he faced everything from awkward tension to blatant racism. From Lynchburg, Virginia; to El Lago, Texas; to Moscow, Russia, Melvin relates the spectrum of his experiences as an African American man and how those realities have informed and shaped his character.

Leland Melvin with Jake and Scout

In 1998, Melvin was selected to become an astronaut. During routine underwater training, he suffered an injury that caused him to lose his hearing, which medically disqualified him for space travel. In the meantime, he worked extensively in education for the agency. Eventually, he regained partial hearing and was cleared for space travel.

Leland Melvin in Space

It would be nearly ten years from the start of his astronaut training until his first shuttle flight, but he finally made it to space in 2008 on shuttle Atlantis as well as the International Space Station. He logged over 565 hours in space during his career and later served as associate administrator for the Office of Education. To date, Melvin is one of only sixteen African American astronauts on NASA’s roster. Melvin retired from NASA in 2014, but continues to advocate strongly for STEAM education initiatives.

From the football field to space, Melvin’s story continues to inspire. Despite disappointments, hardships, and failures, his outlook on life has remained optimistic. The common theme of grace, grit, and second chances was instilled in him at an early age by his parents and bolstered by mentors throughout his life. His emphasis on the importance of hard work and persistence is key not only to his personal success, but also to his continuing role as educator and advocate.

Leland Melvin and Kids

Search the VBPL catalog for Chasing Space, featuring possibly the greatest official astronaut portrait ever on its cover (with special appearances by Melvin’s beloved dogs, Jake and Scout). The book is also available in a Young Readers’ Edition. If you enjoy this book, check out other memoirs by fellow astronauts, such as Spaceman by Mike Massimino and Endurance by Scott Kelly.

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