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Astronaut speaks at Liberty convocation

April 7, 2008 : Mitzi Bible

When you go on a trip of a lifetime, you don’t forget to take pictures to show the folks back home.

NASA astronaut Leland Melvin, a Lynchburg native, spoke at Liberty University’s convocation service Monday and he brought with him video from his mission to space aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis, Feb. 7-20.

From the big screens hanging high in the Vines Center, Melvin guided LU students, faculty, staff and guests through his mission, from liftoff to landing.

“It was the most amazing, amazing sight … the vibration, the motion,” he said about going 17,500 miles per hour at liftoff.

The mission involved docking at the International Space Station to deliver and install the European Space Agency’s Columbus Laboratory. It was accomplished in 12 days. The crew traveled about 5.2 million miles in 203 Earth orbits. Melvin logged more than 306 hours in space.

LU Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. introduced Melvin. He said when he heard about Melvin’s planned mission to space, he called his family to tell them, jokingly, “the reason I was calling was I had always heard there was only one manmade structure visible from space — the Great Wall of China. But I wanted Leland to get a picture of our monogram to prove that now there were two.”

At the service, Melvin was honored by Lynchburg mayor Joan Foster, who read a proclamation declaring “Monday, April 7, 2008, Leland Melvin Day.” Other city officials were also in attendance.

Falwell said Melvin’s visit was significant for Liberty and for the city of Lynchburg.

“It’s great for Liberty and the city to recognize a local hero. Liberty’s becoming a more integral part of the city and this is part of that.”

Melvin began his talk with a moment of silence for the crew of Space Shuttle Columbia, killed upon re-entry on Feb. 1, 2003. He then spoke about his path to becoming an astronaut, honoring those who gave him the “tools” he needed to succeed in his field, from his parents, Deems and Grace Melvin (who still live in Lynchburg and were present at the service) to teachers he had here and at college.

Melvin graduated from Heritage High School in Lynchburg in 1982. He went on to receive a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry from the University of Richmond and a Master of Science degree in materials science engineering from the University of Virginia. Melvin is also a star athlete. He was chosen by the Detroit Lions in the 11th round of the 1986 NFL college draft and participated in the Toronto Argonauts and Dallas Cowboys football training camps.

At a news conference after the service, Melvin said being able to speak at Liberty was exciting.

“This is great … the Vines Center, just the love and support from here and the outpouring. It’s a wonderful university, very positive, people doing the right thing.”

As co-manager of NASA’s Educator Astronaut Program, Melvin has traveled across the U.S. educating thousands of students about space exploration and inspiring them to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Read more about his endeavors at www.nasa.gov.