CAMPBELLSVILLE, Ky. (BP)–When the Space Shuttle Columbia exploded in 2003, NASA astronaut Leland Melvin rushed to the home of his friend David Brown, who had been killed in the disaster.
He talked with Brown’s wheelchair-ridden father, who told Melvin he had to carry on Brown’s legacy of space flight. Today, Melvin can say he has done that — but not without obstacles and God’s help.
“When you see your astronaut friends perish, it changes you,” Melvin said in an interview at Campbellsville University. “It makes you resolve to do things differently and to make a difference in the world.
“My flying in space was my mission — to be a testimony to the world and an assignment from the divine,” Melvin said.
Melvin, who emphasized the need everyone has for a personal relationship with God and that Christians can be people of both faith and science, spent Sept. 27 talking with faculty, staff and students at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. events on the Kentucky campus. He also spoke to the football team and addressed trustees and donors.
Melvin was invited to Campbellsville by E. Bruce Heilman, a 1949 graduate of the university who serves on the board of trustees. The astronaut described Heilman as a key mentor, “a solid role model and citizen” who has influenced him and given him sound counsel.
A graduate of the University of Richmond where he played football, Melvin was drafted in the National Football League but injuries forced him out of the pros. He didn’t know what he wanted to do in life, but a friend suggested he apply to be an astronaut, which he did and was accepted into the program.
Melvin recounted an experience in which he was attending an event honoring his parents and a woman there told him something would happen to him that no one could explain.
Three days later, Melvin was training in a 5-million-gallon pool of water. A crucial piece of equipment had been left out of his suit and he suffered serious ear injuries. Three days later he was deaf — a condition that remained for more than two months. No one could explain what had happened to him.
While recuperating from surgery to restore his hearing, Melvin had time to minister to others and to “be still and be quiet” with God and himself. His recovery forced his brain to “rewire to hear again,” he said.
He recalled another astronaut friend who had an accident and was burned on more than 90 percent of her body. Before she died, her husband chose Melvin to pray with them.
“Sometimes you don’t understand what God has for you and what you need to do in life,” Melvin said, “but God allows opportunities for us if we listen.”
Melvin described another time, during one of his two space flights, when the space shuttle docked with the International Space Station, where astronauts from France, Germany and Russia were serving. The crews “broke bread going 17,500 miles per hour,” Melvin said.
“If more people broke bread together, we could change civilization,” Melvin said. “We could change the ‘isms’ in life — such as racism, terrorism, etc.”
Melvin said he gave himself to the Lord in a parking lot in Lynchburg, Va., while in middle school.
“Since then, my faith has led me through life,” he said.
“We are all put on the planet to be an example,” Melvin said. “Either you’re a good example or a bad example.”
Melvin is now assigned to NASA’s education division, which gives him opportunities to further the NASA mission by speaking to various groups across the country. He said he loves reaching out to children and setting a good example.
Melvin often speaks on the subject of “Living Your Dreams,” urging his audiences to “model your life after good people.”
“You can do or be anything you put your mind to,” Melvin said. “We can be the best we can be and inspire the next generation of explorers.”
He urged the students: “Believe in yourself,” noting, “It doesn’t matter where you start the race, but where you end the race.”
Joan C. McKinney is news and publications coordinator at Campbellsville University, a Baptist-affiliated Christian university in Kentucky (www.campbellsville.edu).