Science Museum Features NASA Astronaut Melvin
By: Emily Outen

Amid excited giggles and sounds of rocket launches from exhibits in the background, students had to pay close attention to hear what NASA astronaut Leland Melvin was saying. And pay attention they did.

Fifth graders of George W. Carver Elementary School in Richmond were engrossed in Melvin's explanations of the International Space Station and the February mission of the STS-122 crew.

Melvin, a mission specialist on the crew of Space Shuttle Atlantis, guided 25 students on a tour of the "Newton in Space" exhibits at the Science Museum of Virginia in Richmond.

"This is Yuri," Melvin said as he pointed to a picture of the Russian cosmonaut in the museum's "Destiny Lab" exhibit. "He was the first human in space."

The students couldn't get close enough to the exhibits and crowded around Melvin, asking him questions and awaiting his answers.

Astronaut Leland Melvin.

Astronaut Leland Melvin explains the components of the International Space Station to students at the Science Museum of Virginia.
Credit: NASA/Sean Smith.

Click on the image for a larger view

"How did you feel in space?" one student asked.

Melvin answered this question by comparing it to floating in a pool. He held up a pen and moved it around showing students how that pen would move if it were in space.

"We talked about when you go into space it's rough to float around, but it's also fun," said Gabrielle Wright, fifth-grade student at Carver.

Wright was particularly interested in Melvin's tour because she wants to become an astronaut.

She paid close attention to Melvin's advice.

"I have to eat my vegetables, listen to my teachers, listen to my parents, study hard and be respectful," Wright said.

Melvin also talked with students from Elkhardt Middle School and Community High and St. Michael's Episcopal School about his path to becoming an astronaut.

He told students to be persistent even in failure.

"I want to see you walk on the moon one day, but it takes dedication and perseverance," he said. "It's not that you fail that matters, it's what you do after you fail."

Melvin shared a story from his high school football days. As he was running toward the end zone, a teammate threw him a pass. Melvin dropped the football in the end zone, quickly quieting the cheers from the fans. His coach gave him a second chance and that time Melvin caught the ball.

With many ties to Virginia, Melvin was eager to come back. He was born and raised in Lynchburg, graduated from the University of Richmond in 1986 and worked as a chemist at NASA Langley.

Melvin began working in the Fiber Optic Sensors group of the Nondestructive Evaluation Sciences Branch at Langley in 1989. Selected by NASA's astronaut program in June 1998, Melvin reported for training in August 1998. His persistence rewarded, Melvin flew on his first spaceflight in February.

NASA Langley Research Center
Managing Editor: Jim Hodges
Executive Editor and Responsible NASA Official: H. Keith Henry
Editor and Curator: Denise Adams