STS-122 Astronauts
Leland Melvin in a training version of his orange launch and entry spacesuit

The STS-122 shuttle mission will be Leland Melvin's first spaceflight. Image Credit: NASA

How is flying in space like playing sports?

Leland Melvin knows. He used to be a professional football player. Now he is an astronaut and crew member of the STS-122 space shuttle mission. The crew will help add a new part to the International Space Station.

"Sports are all about teamwork," astronaut Leland Melvin said. "You can't win a game if you can't work with your team. Working in the tight spaces of the shuttle or the (space) station takes teamwork, as well. You can't be a good astronaut if you can't get along with the people around you."

When people are preparing for their careers, it is important they find things they enjoy. That makes it easier to be good at what they do. When Leland Melvin was in college, he found two things he loved doing.

Melvin really liked playing football. And he became very good at it. He won awards and set records while in school. He also enjoyed studying mathematics and science. He worked very hard in those subjects. When he finished college, he was able to do both of the things he loves.

First, he became a pro football player. But he got hurt and could not play football any more. When that happened, his love of mathematics and science helped him. He became a scientist. Because he had studied so hard, he was good at this, too. He won awards as a scientist.

One day, a friend told Melvin NASA was hiring astronauts. The friend said Melvin should try to become an astronaut. But Melvin did not try at that time. The friend did not give up. The next time NASA was choosing astronauts, he told Melvin again. This time, Melvin did apply. He became an astronaut in 1998.

Soon, he will travel into space. The STS-122 crew has a big job. The astronauts will add the Columbus laboratory to the space station. Many nations work together on the space station. Columbus was built by the European Space Agency. It will add more room for space station crewmembers to do science experiments.

Melvin will help by using the robot arms on the shuttle and space station. First, he will use the shuttle's robot arm to move Columbus. After he does that, other astronauts will go on spacewalks. They will work outside Columbus to get it ready to use. Melvin will help then, too. He will use the space station's robotic arm from inside the space station. Astronauts will be on the robotic arm. Melvin will move the astronauts to where they need to go while they are outside the station.

The seven crew members stand in front of a space shuttle trainer

The members of the STS-122 crew are (from left) Hans Schlegel, Leopold Eyharts, Stanley Love, Stephen Frick, Alan Poindexter, Leland Melvin and Rex Walheim. Image Credit: NASA

Columbus will be an important part of the space station, Melvin said. "I'm proud to help install it with the robotic arm."

Other things Melvin enjoys will help with the job. He enjoys playing video games. Those games have helped him get ready to use the robot arms.

Taking pictures is another thing Melvin enjoys. He is looking forward to taking pictures in space. He wants to take pictures of Earth. "I can't wait to float over to the nearest window," he said. "Blues, greens, browns ... no borders. One globe for everyone. (I'll be) thinking about everyone below working and playing. I think this is a way I can help promote peace in the world."

Melvin has advice for students in school today. One thing students should do is learn about different jobs. If they find a job they think they might like, "Learn about it and talk to people who are doing it," he said. "Learn everything you can. See if it's something you really want to do. You'll have to go to school and train and study. If it's something you want to do, then really go for it.

"Stay curious. Remember, no matter how big or small, no matter what your background, no matter who your parents are -- you can succeed. So eat your green beans and study hard!"

Related Resources
Leland Melvin   →
NASA Education Web Site  →

David Hitt/NASA Educational Technology Services