May 2, 2003
Former Football Player Scores Big With Academic Plan
Astronaut and former NFL player Melvin Leland co-manages the Educator Astronaut Program at NASA.
Every football player dreams about being drafted by an NFL team. NASA astronaut Leland Melvin, a 6-foot-1-inch, 200-pound wide receiver from the University of Richmond in Virginia, was one of the few collegiate athletes drafted by an NFL team.
Melvin was well on his way to stardom when an injury sidelined his aspirations. However, by having a good back-up plan, Melvin was prepared to overcome his obstacle and become a success in another profession.
Today, as one of six African-Americans in NASA's Permanent Astronaut Corps, Melvin has his sights on the stars. Executing his options catapulted him from the gridiron into space.
"To accomplish great things, you must not only dream, but also plan; and every plan should contain options, like having a spare tire, just in case you get a flat," Melvin said.
As co-manager of NASA's Educator Astronaut Program (EAP), Melvin travels across the country, engaging thousands of students through the excitement of space exploration, and inspiring them to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
"Our children are the next generation of leaders and explorers," Melvin said. "I want to share the value of a well-rounded education with students all over the country and help them make a connection to higher education."
As a child, Melvin treasured the chemistry set his parents gave him in first grade. Later, he took apart the family telephone to see how it worked, and he put it back together again without error. "I always had that passion, that sense of wonderment," Melvin recalled.
While in football training camp, Melvin was working as a research assistant in the Materials Science Department at the University of Virginia (UVA), Charlottesville, Va. He was also taking night classes via television.
"By day I was catching footballs, and at night I was watching materials science courses on video," he said. Melvin later enrolled in the UVA graduate program in materials science engineering. His passion and devotion paid off when he was hired to work for NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., as a researcher. Melvin began to pursue a new career, one just as powerful as his professional football career. In 1998, he was selected as an astronaut, which led to his position with the EAP.
"Kids today want to be Michael Jordan. There's nothing wrong with that. However, I ask them, what will you do if you get injured during a game? Or, what will you do when you're no longer able to pursue that goal?" he said.
NASA's Education mission is to inspire the next generation of explorers by using NASA's unique resources, such as the Astronaut Corps and the International Space Station.
Media organizations interested in interviewing Melvin should contact Gretchen Cook-Anderson at: 202/358-0836.
A complete biography of Melvin is available on the Internet at:
To learn more about the EAP and other NASA education activities on the Internet, visit:
For more information about NASA on the Internet, visit:
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