Tag Archives: Leland Melvin

In the Company of Astronauts

17 Feb

It was still early but already a small crowd was gathering in the gallery on Main Street. Lovely photographs on canvas adorned all 4 walls; pictures in vivid colors of a snow fence in a field in summer & a second of the same fence on a snowy winter day; a church steeple & many pictures taken from the vantage point of the space shuttle or the International Space Station.

A man stood by holding a picture of himself with 2 other people. One was a woman who had previously autographed the photo & the other was the man the gathering crowd was waiting to see & hear when the program began at 5:30. I assumed that the man with the photo was hoping to get the other side of the picture autographed before the evening ended.

We stood at the front of the crowd. We’d gotten there first & I wasn’t about to lose that front row seat … well, stand, since there was no seating at the event.

I’ve been a part of science fiction for many years; starting a local club 33 years ago that is still going strong & having been to conventions & conferences in numbers too great to remember over the years. My husband & I have even seen & met at least 2 astronauts but tonight was different & so was the astronaut we were about to see.

52-year-old NASA astronaut, Leland Melvin was showing a collection of his photography at the gallery & speaking about his life as part of Black History Month. It was an event that was quietly publicized, which led to fewer than 100 people attending, but that was good.  There was no push of the crowd to get closer so we were comfortable, even though standing, & the event took on a more personal feeling.

Melvin came into the gallery right on time. He was tall & smiling & seemed like someone we’d known for at least a decade.

He began by telling us about his life … growing up & some of the hardships he faced as a young black man. He told us about playing football for the local high school & his career as an athlete (he is the only person drafted into the National Football League to have flown in space). He showed us pictures, including the cover for his new book that will be released in May; Chasing Space. He charmed us with tales of how he became an astronaut & the many joys of that part of his life. He said he would volunteer in a heartbeat to be part of a Mars mission.

Melvin was serious & nostalgic & he was funny. The hour passed much too quickly.

I had an opportunity to tell him that our science fiction club, through an inordinate amount of fundraising, has sent 9 local middle school kids to Space Camp. This year we will be sending student number 10. He seemed very excited about that, as we are, & said Space Camp is a great beginning for young people who may eventually become the astronauts of tomorrow.

What sets Leland Melvin apart from all the other NASA astronauts that are & have been part of our nation’s space program is that Melvin was born & raised right here at home. He played football at our local high school & went to the same movie theaters, skating rinks & restaurants that we did. He isn’t just a visiting celebrity passing through town, showing his photography at a local gallery & speaking during Black History Month. He is home folks. He is US. And that’s what made this night at the gallery so very special.

After Melvin’s presentation ended, I did see the man with the picture approach Melvin & I saw him autograph it. The picture was of Melvin standing on the left side of the man & on the right side stood a woman who had already autographed the picture. She holds a very special place in our nation’s space history as a recruiter of minorities. Years ago she recruited Sally Ride.

For me it was especially exciting seeing the picture & seeing it to completion. I’d met that special woman on several occasions & understood how important it was to the man to have Leland Melvin complete the picture with his autograph added to that of Nichelle Nichols – Star Trek’s Lieutenant Uhura. It somehow made the evening more than special.  It made it MAGICAL.

0210171806   0210171741c

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, dog  nichelle

Advertisements