“Houston, we have a problem.” Leland Melvin was 25 feet under water in the Neutral Buoyancy
Laboratory, a 6 million gallon pool, training to perform spacewalks as a NASA astronaut when he
called the test director and asked him to turn the volume up in his headset. He never heard a
reply and was immediately hoisted out of the pool to learn that he was deaf. Emergency surgery
resulting in only partial recovery to his hearing led him to being medically disqualified to fly in
space by NASA flight surgeons. This is just one of the many career ending challenges Leland has
overcome in his life. Before becoming an astronaut Leland 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 then later with the Dallas Cowboys. Hear his fascinating story of perseverance
and how he ultimately traveled off-planet twice on Space Shuttle Atlantis to help build the
International Space Station. Leland is the only person drafted into the National Football League 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. Through these
professional experiences working on high stakes teams he developed a deep and nuanced
understanding of effective team dynamics.
Leland has a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry and a master’s degree in materials science
engineering. He worked at NASA Langley Research Center in the area of nondestructive testing
creating optical fiber sensors for measuring damage in aerospace vehicles resulting in
publications in numerous scientific journals. After hanging up his space boots he 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 the nation’s 5-year STEM education plan. Leland was the United States
representative and chair of the International Space Education Board (ISEB), a global
collaboration in space. He uses his life story as an athlete, astronaut, scientist, engineer,
photographer, and musician to help inspire the next generation of explorers to pursue Science,
Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics (STEAM) careers. Leland was also recently seen
as the host of the Lifetime competition series Child Genius and is currently seen as a judge for
ABC’s competition series BattleBots.
Leland holds four honorary doctorates for his service in education, the sciences and philanthropy.
He was chosen as an ICON MANN with Quincy Jones, Forrest Whitaker, Steve Harvey and 24
other men selected for their ability to inspire people of all ages through their vision and
commitment to creating positive change throughout the world. Leland has been honored with the
NFL Players Association “Award of Excellence” for inspiring athletes to pursue excellence on and
off the field. He has written a chapter on the power of visualization in Venus Williams’ book Come
to Win. Leland has appeared on Top Chef as a celebrity judge and Bizarre Foods with Andrew
Zimmerman, while Cesar Milan helped him with his unruly pooch Jake on an episode of The Dog
Whisperer. He was featured in a Sci Fi Channel program documenting the making of the “Reach
for the Stars” will.i.am song, which was transmitted to Mars and back to inspire students to
pursue STEAM. After 24 years with NASA as a researcher, astronaut and Senior Executive
Service leader he looks to share his stories of perseverance and excellence to inspire
communities for lasting positive change.
In May, Leland released the memoir, Chasing Space: An Astronaut's Story of Grit, Grace, and
Second Chances. In Chasing Space, Leland shares his personal journey from the gridiron to the
stars, and examine the intersecting roles of community, perseverance and grace that align to
create the opportunities for success.
Leland currently resides in Lynchburg, Virginia.