Welcome to the Evolving Man Project’s ‘Evolved Man of the Week’ profiles. Each week we will highlight an individual that embodies what it means to be an evolved man, famous and non-famous men alike. The world needs to know their stories and deeds. This week’s honor goes to the former NFL wide receiver, author, engineer, and NASA astronaut, Leland Melvin.
Leland Devon Melvin was born on February 15, 1964, in Lynchburg, Virginia. He graduated from Heritage High School, Lynchburg, Virginia, in 1982; received a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry from the University of Richmond, Richmond, Virginia, and a Master of Science degree in Materials Science Engineering from the University of Virginia in 1991.
Melvin was a wide receiver on the University of Richmond football team from 1982–85. Melvin is first on the University of Richmond’s career lists with 198 receptions for 2,669 yards, and fourth on Richmond’s career touchdown receptions list with 16. He was an AP honorable mention All-America selection in 1984 and 1985 and second team Apple Academic All-America in 1985.
A team captain during his senior season, Melvin had his best year in 1985, with 65 catches for 956 yards and eight TDs. His top game was in 1984 against James Madison University, when he had 10 catches for 208 yards and one touchdown. Melvin caught at least one pass in every game he played as a Richmond Spider.
He was in the University of Richmond Athletic Hall of Fame Inductee Class of 1996–97 and selected for the All-UR Stadium Team in 2009, which commemorates the most magnificent Spiders to have played at the stadium in its 81-year history.
Melvin was chosen by the Detroit Lions in the 11th round of the 1986 NFL Draft as a wide receiver. During training camp, he pulled a hamstring and was released from the team. He reported to the Dallas Cowboys the following spring but pulled a hamstring a second time, officially ending his professional football career. He also participated in the Toronto Argonauts football training camp.
Melvin began working in the Fiber Optic Sensors group of the Nondestructive Evaluation Sciences Branch at NASA Langley Research Center in 1989 where he conducted research in the area of physical measurements for the development of advanced instrumentation for Nondestructive Evaluation. His responsibilities included using optical fiber sensors to measure strain, temperature, and chemical damage in both composite and metallic structures. Additional projects included developing optical interferometric techniques for quantitative determination of damage in aerospace structures and materials.
In 1994, Melvin was selected to lead the Vehicle Health Monitoring team for the cooperative Lockheed/NASA X-33 Reusable Launch Vehicle programme. The team developed a variety of sensors for the reduction of vehicle operational costs and to monitor composite liquid oxygen tank and cryogenic insulation performance.
In 1996, Melvin co-designed and monitored construction of an optical Nondestructive Evaluation facility capable of producing in-line fiber optic Bragg grating strain sensors at rates more than 1000 per hour. This facility will provide a means for performing advanced sensor and laser research for the development of aerospace and civil health monitoring systems.
Selected by NASA in June 1998, Melvin reported for training in August 1998. Since then he has been assigned to NASA’s Astronaut Office Space Station Operations Branch, and the Education Department at NASA Headquarters, Washington, D.C.
As co-manager of NASA’s Educator Astronaut Programme, Leland Melvin traveled across the country, engaging thousands of students and teachers in the excitement of space exploration, and inspiring them to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. He next served in the Robotics Branch of the Astronaut Office. Melvin is assigned as a mission specialist on the STS-122 mission that will deliver the European Space Agency’s Columbus Laboratory to the International Space Station.
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
Here is Leland Melvin in his own words about no matter your status and life success people should still strive to learn something new every day:
“No matter what gifts that you’ve been blessed to have, lifelong learning and reinvention can also take the gifts that you have, and enhance them in a way that you can share them with the next generation of explorers.”
People can learn a lot about grit, adversity, and truimph from Leland Melvin’s unique journey from the gridiron to space. Today we honor Leland Melvin as our Evolved Man of the Week.