Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Leland Melvin's Fantastic Voyage

Leland Melvin has very nearly been a member of two exclusive clubs: the National Football League (NFL) and the NASA astronaut corps. The first opportunity fizzled before it got very far. The second, however, recently afforded him a roundtrip to the International Space Station (ISS).

The former NFL draft pick in February journeyed into orbit aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis—an opportunity he had prepared for since beginning his training in 1998. The flight crew's goal: attach the European Space Agency's Columbus research laboratory to the ISS.
During the mission, Melvin played a key role in docking the 23 by 15 foot (7 meter by 4.6 meter) lab onto the space station, a task that involved operating robotic arms on both the shuttle and the ISS. "It was like playing the ultimate video game," Melvin says about his time manipulating the two joysticks that control the dual mechanical arms.

That wasn't the only thrill that Melvin experienced during his 13-day foray into space. He also had the pleasure of observing the odd eating habits of people in a zero-gravity environment: "There were people floating along the ceiling," he recalls, "and coming down like a bat to get the food."

He and his crewmates traveled at 25 times the speed of sound when Space Shuttle Atlantis reentered the earth's atmosphere, generating a 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit (1,649 degrees Celsius), mile-long (1.6 kilometer) trail of plasma. "You just pray that the heat shields are doing their thing," he says.
Read more HERE.