Engineer, former NASA astronaut and NFL wide receiver Leland Melvin will help honor Oklahoma’s outstanding public school students and educators when he delivers the keynote address at the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence Academic Awards Banquet Saturday, May 18, at the Renaissance Tulsa Convention Center.
Melvin served on board the Space Shuttle Atlantis as a mission specialist in 2008 and in 2009, helping to construct the International Space Station. He later served as co-chair of the White House’s Federal Coordination in STEM Education Task Force and as NASA Associate Administrator for Education.
Melvin, who earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and master’s degree in materials science engineering, first joined NASA in 1989 as an engineer. He worked in the Langley Research Center in the area of nondestructive testing, creating optical fiber sensors for measuring damage in aerospace vehicles. He was selected as an astronaut in June 1998.
During his astronaut training, Melvin’s space career was put on hold when he lost his hearing during an under-water exercise training to perform space walks. This was one of many career ending challenges he faced in his life. Before joining NASA, Melvin was drafted by the Detroit Lions in the 1986 College Draft to play professional football, but a hamstring injury thwarted his NFL career with Detroit and later with the Dallas Cowboys.
Through determination and perseverance, Melvin ultimately traveled to space twice to help construct the International Space Station, logging 565 hours in space. He is the only person ever drafted into the NFL to have flown in space. The Pro Football Hall of Fame honored his athletic and academic accomplishments by placing his Detroit Lions jersey under glass in Canton, Ohio.
After hanging up his space boots, Melvin was appointed head of NASA Education and served as the co-chair on the White House’s Federal Coordination in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Education Task Force, developing a five-year STEM education plan. He was the U.S. representative and chair of the International Space Education Board, a global collaboration in space. Melvin retired from NASA in 2014.
Melvin recently published his memoir, “Chasing Space: An Astronaut’s Story of Grit, Grace and Second Chances.” He is a frequent public speaker who shares his life story to inspire the next generation of explorers to pursue careers in STEM. Among his many television appearances, Melvin served as host of the Lifetime television series “Child Genius” and has appeared on episodes of “The Dog Whisperer” and “Top Chef.” He is the recipient of many honors, including the NFL Players Association Award of Excellence, four honorary doctorates and ICON MANN honors in recognition of his ability to inspire others through his vision and commitment to creating positive change.