Updated: May 17
Leland turned to educate children about space. On February 1, 2003, Leland was on his way to work with teachers and students when Shuttle Columbia broke coming back to Earth. To honor the legacy of his friends, he flew around the country to speak at different memorial services about their sacrifice for humanity. Unbeknownst to him, Rich Williams, the chief flight surgeon, was observing Leland at every takeoff and landing. Rich signed a waiver for Leland to fly in space. Leland has since flown twice in the Space Shuttle Atlantis as a mission specialist on missions STS-122 (2008) and STS-129 (2009). After his last space mission, he led NASA’s education department as its Associate Administrator until he retired in 2014. His official NASA Astronaut portrait went viral for including his dogs.
Prior to joining NASA, Melvin was drafted by the Detroit Lions in the 1986 NFL college football draft and later played for the Dallas Cowboys. He is currently a member of the Board of Directors for BWX Technologies and a Director’s Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab. For 8 years he was a member of the University of Richmond Board of Trustees and received five Honorary Doctorates for education, science, and philanthropy. Leland is a Trustee Emeritus of the University of Richmond and received five Honorary Doctorates for education, science, and philanthropy. He is the only person to catch a football both in the National Football League and in space.