Altoona Distinguished Speaker Series to host Leland Melvin

ALTOONA, Pa. — As part of the Penn State Altoona Distinguished Speaker Series, Leland Melvin will present at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 2, in the Misciagna Family Center for Performing Arts. Free tickets are available at the Penn State Altoona Bookstore, the box office, or at the door.

After 24 years with NASA as a researcher, astronaut, and senior executive service leader, Melvin now shares his stories of perseverance and excellence to inspire communities for lasting positive change.

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 Melvin has overcome in his life.

Before becoming an astronaut, he was drafted by the Detroit Lions in the 1986 NFL draft, 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. Melvin 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.

Melvin has a bachelor of science degree in chemistry and a master’s degree in materials science engineering. He worked at NASA's Langley Research Center in the area of nondestructive testing creating optical fiber sensors for measuring damage in aerospace vehicles, resulting in his work being published 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 Education Task Force, developing the nation’s five-year STEM education plan. Melvin was the United States representative and chair of the International Space Education Board, 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 careers. Melvin is also currently the host of the Lifetime competition series "Child Genius" and a judge for ABC’s competition series "BattleBots."

Melvin holds four honorary doctorates for his service in education, the sciences, and philanthropy.

Last Updated January 14, 2016