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How a former NFL player fulfilled his lifelong dream of becoming an astronaut

Sometimes we dream so big that it scares us.

We become so excitingly overwhelmed with all the possibilities (including failure) and let that stop some of us from ever even trying. However, in the back of our minds, we all know that our dreams are obtainable if we put in the work.

Space is something we are all fascinated with. As kids, at some point in time, we’ve all dreamed of being astronauts. Even Future claims he’s astronaut status.

For former NFL wide receiver, Leland Melvin, being an astronaut was a childhood dream. A dream he didn’t even know was possible until all the stars aligned. Melvin said in video feature with AARP,

“I remember this quote, and it said the two most important days of your life are the day you were born, and the day you figure out why.”

Leland was a renaissance man growing up. As a youth, he was fascinated with the sciences and dominated in sports.

Even though his curiosity was through the roof, the dream of being an astronaut was not even a thought. That dream was fully supported by his parents since a young age. He said,

“I remember the summer that my mother gave me a chemistry set and it was one of these like age inappropriate non OSHA certified chemistry set. My parents said ‘Leland you’d be a great astronaut’. Like what? Me, an astronaut? When I looked at 1969 and Neil Armstrong walking on the moon, I never imagined myself in that role because I didn’t see someone who looked like me.”

Born in 1964, Melvin grew up in a time when people of color were rarely represented on television. Black astronauts were not present in the 1960s. The person he aspired to model himself after was Arthur Ashe. Melvin said,

“I saw someone who looked like me, and I was told he had great character, discipline and all these things. Ashe also achieved his fame at a time when African-Americans were still being hanged in the Deep South.”

Hailing from Lynchburg, Virginia, Melvin would go on to attend the University of Richmond and play football for the Spiders.

After a historic college career, in 1986 Melvin declared for the draft and was selected by the Detroit Lions. Unfortunately, his football career was short lived due to two pulled hamstrings. Unwavered, Melvin had a backup plan. He would find himself superglued to grind of graduate school where he’d go on to become a scientist.

Melvin used his scientific studies as leverage with NASA, sparking an entirely new career path. There he worked with world-renowned mathematician Katherine Johnson  (featured in the movie Hidden Figures)  as well as the first Black NASA administrator, Charlie Bolden

Now with his foot in the door with NASA, it’s time to swing for the fences. After years of dedicated service, Melvin finally shot for his dream he subconsciously wanted all along. Leland Melvin applied to become a NASA astronaut. That one decision would change his life forever.

The journey to becoming astronaut status is one of the many roads far less traveled. He even lost hearing during his astronaut training.

After his hearing returned, in 2008 he flew on his first space mission: STS-122. On this mission, Melvin learned a whole new perspective of reality as we know it.

In 2009, Melvin came back for round two, embarking on yet another space mission: STS-129. Now retired and on the plus side of age 50, Melvin can say he has lived the dream of being an astronaut.

Never satisfied, Melvin is still evolving as a person. If he’s not chilling with his dogs, he’s using his influences to educating others. Melvin said,

“No matter what gifts that you’ve been blessed to have, lifelong learning and reinvention can also take the gifts that you have, enhance them in a way that you can share them with the next generation of explorers,”

It took 44 years for Leland Melvin to find his path. Every bump in the road he hit along his journey didn’t stop him on his soul mission. When a door closed, he opened another one. Let his story be a testament to how strong our will to succeed is.

Never stop growing.