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Chasing Space: An Astronaut's Story of Grit, Grace, and Second Chances

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In this revelatory and moving memoir, a former NASA astronaut and NFL wide receiver shares his personal journey from the gridiron to the stars, examining the intersecting roles of community, perseverance and grace that align to create the opportunities for success.

Leland Melvin is the only person in human history to catch a pass in the National Football League and in space. Though his path to the heavens was riddled with setbacks and injury, Leland persevered to reach the stars.

While training with NASA, Melvin suffered a severe injury that left him deaf. Leland was relegated to earthbound assignments, but chose to remain and support his astronaut family. His loyalty paid off. Recovering partial hearing, he earned his eligibility for space travel. He served as mission specialist for two flights aboard the shuttle Atlantis, working on the International Space Station.

In this uplifting memoir, the former NASA astronaut and professional athlete offers an examination of the intersecting role of community, determination, and grace that align to shape our opportunities and outcomes. Chasing Space is not the story of one man, but the story of many men, women, scientists, and mentors who helped him defy the odds and live out an uncommon destiny.

As a chemist, athlete, engineer and space traveler, Leland’s life story is a study in the science of achievement. His personal insights illuminate how grit and grace, are the keys to overcoming adversity and rising to success.

256 pages, ebook

First published May 23, 2017

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Leland Melvin

3 books37 followers

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5 stars
223 (21%)
4 stars
425 (40%)
3 stars
352 (33%)
2 stars
53 (5%)
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7 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 180 reviews
Profile Image for Anna.
215 reviews
July 7, 2020
"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 Melvin

I've seen a lot of critical reviews for this memoir. Personally, I enjoyed it and found it very inspiring. Books come into your life when you need them sometimes and this book met me at the right time.

Leland does not spend the entire book talking about space. The title of the book is "Chasing Space" and that is exactly the narrative told by Leland. He tells of the challenges he faced and the life he lived to get to space. It's important to note how incredible his story is. He came from a humble upbringing in Virginia and became an accomplished athlete, engineer AND astronaut. Despite the discrimination he faced for his race, his family and faith helped him persevere to accomplish his goals.

All astronauts have to have a drive to succeed and a whole lot of grit. Leland definitely has both. I was so encouraged by his failures. He did not have an easy path in life and so many things did not work out as he planned, yet he continued to always push forward.

I am also inspired by his work to drive interest in STEM fields with children. After his mission in space and retirement from NASA, he continues to be a public servant and encourage others.

If you want to be challenged to get back up and keep on trying definitely pick this one up!
Profile Image for Leo.
4,385 reviews410 followers
January 30, 2021
An interesting look on Leland Melvin life through football and space. However I was more interested in the space stuff but it was a good book either way
Profile Image for Nina.
96 reviews13 followers
June 30, 2020
This was a good, easy read. Melvin mentions being a motivational speaker following his astronaut career, and that style is evident in how he framed his story in such a concise, narrative way. Hearing the perspective of an astronaut, especially one of America's early Black astronauts, is always thrilling. Melvin describes how a series of fortuitous circumstances from his parents' strong work ethic, to his supportive neighborhood and not needing to be bussed away during school integration, to his football career, to an academic punishment that was a blessing in disguise, among other factors, led to his unexpected, decorated, and decades-long career as a NASA astronaut. It was a sweet story to see how much love and strength Melvin found in his various communities. Although I knew that astronauts need to be rigorously academically, mentally, and physically tested, I had no idea how rigorous those physical aspects were until Melvin discussed the athletic training and competencies he needed to undergo as part of astronaut training.

The only critiques I have here are that while Melvin has had a long and dedicated career to STEAM education and advocacy, he doesn't talk about the systemic barriers that exist which are propagated by current government and business powerhouses. For example, he mentions how tragic 9/11 was (which I am not contesting), but doesn't talk about it critically at all - the attack had a lot more to do with the history of the US military rather than a simple good vs evil narrative. Or he mentions the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina on NOLA without acknowledging that the poor, Black folks who bore the brunt of that tragedy did so with government sign-off, with the knowledge that these folks were at risk due to the aged and over-strained levee system but took no significant preventative measures. He even mentions being at a talk with former president Bill Clinton honoring underrepresented minority youth in the STEM fields without any acknowledgement of how the Clinton administration directly attacked welfare programs and played a big part in empowering the school-to-prison pipeline.

Lastly, he mentions going to Israel on behalf of his fallen astronaut comrade Ilan Ramon (of the space shuttle Columbia tragedy) to do outreach and education work there, describing the diversity of the kids there in terms of racial background, national origin, and economic class, and only mentions Gaza once, in the context of how it had attacked some of the neighborhoods these kids were from. While I'm sure that that's true and it's important to note that his mission was a diplomatic one and that children are children wherever you go, largely removed from the world of politics and at the behest of the adults around them to educate them about the "good" and the "bad" guys in the world, he mentions absolutely nothing about Israel's illegal occupation of Palestine, and how he was essentially going into a nation that is enacting genocide much to global condemnation. I understand that he needed to be diplomatic and this is a memoir so he can say whatever he wants but not mentioning actual genocide and in fact painting Israel as the sole victims here when the United Nations has been formally condemning their violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms around Palestine since the late 1960s also just feels... weirdly exclusionary.

Not mentioning any of this stuff made me wonder if he just didn't know these perspectives or if he couldn't mention them because he didn't want to be too critical here given his former status as a federal employee. I understand that this was a memoir but that he chooses to mention a rich tapestry of Black Americans who came before him and paved the way to his success, and that he identifies himself as wanting to be counted among them, these were strange exclusions for me that made me wonder if he was ignorant about world affairs (which seems unlikely because he's a literal astronaut) or if he just didn't identify with any of these struggles (even though his entire book is about him overcoming life's struggles).

Anyways, those points aside, I liked this book and astronauts are cool.
Profile Image for Jennifer Mangler.
1,395 reviews13 followers
June 5, 2017
"Taking extravagant pleasure in being alive." Melvin wrote that in his journal at one point along his NASA journey, and it encapsulated for me his approach to life. I appreciated his discussion of the obstacles he faced and how he worked to overcome them. His is an inspiring story.
Profile Image for Sarah.
796 reviews10 followers
April 21, 2022
I enjoyed listening to Melvin's story of his journey to becoming an astronaut, who lived on the ISS for a period of time. Having listened to Kelly's book of his time aboard, the ISS, I would have liked more stories from Melvin's point of view. The strength of this book is that Melvin explores moments in his life where the decisions he or others made could have changed the course of his life. One example is how he was accused of cheating on a test in college; he was suspended for a semester and put on probation. Another is when he injured himself when trying out for various NFL teams. The title of the book sums up how Melvin approached and overcame the obstacles life put in his way. He shows himself as a man of integrity and determination. A very good book for anyone who may be feeling discouraged, or limited.
Profile Image for T.A. Bruno.
Author 5 books66 followers
July 1, 2020
Leland Melvin's journey is insightful and provides a unique perspective when compared to most astronaut autobiographies. It has stories from his time in football and the NFL to NASA to even some brief stints on game shows such as Battlebots. I enjoyed this autobiography, and I highly recommend it!
Profile Image for Samantha Huckabay.
168 reviews9 followers
January 20, 2022
Tennis, outer space, jets, astronauts, dogs, STEAM education, NASA, and football all rolled into one easily digestible package.

I enjoyed this one! I think it would be really well suited to younger readers as a good motivational and inspirational read. Leland overcame a number of challenges to get to where he is today, and I think he touched on a lot of the bigger topics. I personally wish we had gotten a more in depth view into how her personally responded to some of his struggles, but I think it makes for a perfect conversation started for middle grade readers, especially those with an interest in space or looking for representation of themselves in STEAM.
Profile Image for Larisa.
639 reviews1 follower
January 3, 2018
The narrative was not the most cohesive but still an enjoyable read. I wish his experiences in actual space travel were more detailed. Unfortunately that part of the book was relatively short, and his struggles with the physiological changes of zero gravity were some of the most interesting parts for me. I like the emphasis on his various missteps and failures, and I especially appreciate his continued dedication to outreach and education.
30 reviews
February 22, 2020
Leland’s experiences are varied and interesting. He has a brimming optimism and a belief that every person can and should follow their dreams. This book was an easy and entertaining read. He describes the entire NASA astronaut experience, not just the space flight parts, while also providing memoirs and insights into the life events that led him to becoming an astronaut.
Profile Image for Jen.
1,142 reviews5 followers
April 18, 2023
After hearing Leland Melvin speak recently, I had to read his book. What a fascinating journey his life has been. Could the dogs be any more adorable? As a Virginian, he spoke about pursuing your dreams, not giving up, and the importance of education.

I do wonder if there’s been any systematic barriers that were skirted over like 9/11.
Profile Image for Audra.
Author 1 book25 followers
March 6, 2018
This is a pretty good story of one man's life. Leland Melvin is the only man to have played in the NFL and flown in space. You can definitely be inspired by his determination. He never let a setback define his life. He always regrouped and pushed forward.

I only gave this book three stars though because at some point it just became tedious and there was less of how he got through things and more of a name-dropping this is what I did.

Nonetheless, I am proud of who he is and what he has done. I even learned some interesting tidbits of black history, which is always a plus.
Profile Image for Karin.
1,226 reviews31 followers
May 11, 2019
I wish this had been better organized. His story is certainly interesting, but the book feels really scattered. Some sections went on much too long and there are other sections I'd love to have heard more about.
Profile Image for Emily.
104 reviews
February 20, 2019
I was really hoping he would talk about sneaking his dogs into his official NASA portrait, since it’s on the cover and all, but it’s not in the book!
Profile Image for Melinda.
129 reviews
June 9, 2020
“Why do some people reach their potential despite the obstacles in their path, while others, just as talented, do not?”
Profile Image for Claire Wisker.
86 reviews3 followers
June 10, 2020
Written from the heart, in his own voice, and for everyone. What a lovely journey.
Profile Image for Melinda.
276 reviews77 followers
April 8, 2021
This wasn't as 'space heavy' as I predicted but it was an enjoyable memoir to read (well, listen to).

I particularly loved Leland's passion for STEM education and inspiring future generations. His determination to see life setbacks as mere stepping stones to his next path was very inspiring.

Predicting many more space memoirs in my future.
Profile Image for Ro Givens.
237 reviews
September 10, 2022
I enjoyed this memoir from Leland Melvin who I always remember as the astronaut with the dogs. I hadn’t realized that he grew up in Lynchburg, attended the University of Richmond, and started out trying to join the NFL. I went to U of R as well and had Dr. Myers as a professor and as a scholarship advisor. I absolutely loved the story of how Dr. Myers gave Melvin one of his second chances. Melvin describes the hurdles he overcame to become an astronaut and gives fun tidbits about space travel and training. If you’re looking for an uplifting story from someone who loves science, this is a good one.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
Author 1 book3 followers
September 23, 2018
I had the good fortune to attend college in Melvin’s hometown and have seen him speak, so I was familiar with the main trajectory of his career but this book really opens up about his life and experience and he doesn’t shy away from the tough times and challenges. He has an easy-going writing style and while the last few chapters read more like a travel log of NASA events, I enjoyed Melvin’s message, especially his emphasis of merging arts into the STEM discipline.
Profile Image for David Wen.
225 reviews1 follower
July 10, 2017
A feel good autobiography of Leland's life. There's nothing profound in what he's been through or what he says but it's an enjoyable read about what seems like a great guy who deserved everything he's earned. Would love to share a beer with him one day and hear his stories in person.
218 reviews25 followers
July 7, 2017
This is nice book about never giving up on your dreams! Even with the adversity of a dream gets sidelined and/ or crushed. Sometimes you get a 2nd chance and change the course of how you ultimately accomplish your goals after all! But this book dragged on forever! Would definitely not re-read this one!
Profile Image for Alexandra.
606 reviews45 followers
July 2, 2017
If I'm being honest, I only wanted to read this book because of the cover. The author's NASA photo was taken with his dogs? As a dog lover, I'm sold!

I didn't know anything about the author, Leland Melvin, prior to reading this book. But I'm glad I know about him now because he has lived an amazing and inspiring life. I really enjoyed reading about his life growing up and his life in space. But I have to admit, I was a little bored with some parts between those. But this was still a really great book about someone who lived a very interesting life.
Profile Image for Ruby.
383 reviews5 followers
July 23, 2019
"I never aspired to a life off the ground, much less to become an astronaut. I knew that whatever path of life I was on, I wanted to do my best."

"While I had a passion for doing many things, my goals hadn't included exploring the cosmos. The universe pulled me there. I somewhat serendipitously ended up at NASA because of a tenacious recruiter. I never imagined space travel until the possibility was presented to me. Just hearing the words that I would make a good astronaut changed me. Getting to my ultimate goal of orbiting the Earth involved a process of mastering many challenges, which now included recovering as fast as I could."

"Despite the abundance of advanced degrees and even Nobel laureates who work at NASA, the agency's rumor mill isn't always accurate."

"Space travel was an anticipated thrill, but music had always been an important part of my life. I didn't want to imagine living without it."

"One school of thought maintains that success in the face of staggering odds requires a potent combination of self-control and "grit."

"I don't recall my parents ever telling us to study or pressuring us to get good grades; they simply expected us to be good and to work hard. Our parents had their lives, and Cathy and I had ours. Everyone was expected to carry their own load. They didn't hover over us or bader us to make sure we got our homework in or studied for a big test. I didn't always get A's, but I always worked hard because that was the sunspoken expectation."

"The fact that others believed enough in me to give me a second chance-even after I failed before-inspired me to persevere against the odds and to never give up."

"In my case, I had always had a mastery of mind over matter and an ability to endure a pretty high degree of discomfort every day to reach a goal way out on the horizon. I figured I was just born this way, or that it happened pretty quickly after I arrived."

"I believe that everything happens for a reason, and it was slowly becoming clear to me what I supposed to do next."

"I wanted them to know that failures in life are the building blocks for later success, and that anything was possible. Even my serendipitous path to space."

"When I met Watson and Montgomery in 2010, Montgomery was nearing ninety. Still, he remembered the terror he felt nearly fifty years ago when he first walked into that NASA lab full of angry white men who didn't think he belonged there. After the panel ended, I had a chance to speak with him during the reception. He came up to me and shook my hand. "You know," he said. "You astronauts, you're the bravest people I ever met." I couldn't believe he was saying this to me, this from a man who opened doors at the space agency so I could someday fly in space. I'm sure the notion of a black astronaut at NASA was thinkable during Montgomery's time at the agency. "No sir," I said. "I heard your story. You are the bravest person I ever met."

"The year I applied, for the class of 1998, twenty-five U.S. astronauts were chosen from a pool of 2,500 applicants with six international astronauts added to round us out to thirty-one. Most of those who have made it into the Astronaut Corps had been turned away before, some more than a dozen times."

"Somehow the former football player with no smoldering aspiration to be an astronaut got in on his first try. The NFL Players Association calculates that the odds of a high school player getting into the NFL are about 0.2 percent. In 1998, I became the only person ever admitted in two of the most select clubs inn the country."

"Diligence, prayer, and belief in oneself could indeed make good things happen."

"What I learned from meeting the scientists, engineers, and space officials during the training sessions was that there are key similarities that unite us, no matter where we're from or our cultural differences. Everyone wants the best for their children, food on the table, and a roof over their head. They desire diginity and respect. Most just want to be heard."

"Our country includes an abundance of marvels and splendors, many of which are too distant or inaccessible for most Americans to witness firsthand. In some respects they compared to the wonders of the cosmos, and I was quite grateful to be able to explore them."

"On the one hand, we possessed the technical savvy to create vehicles and satellites capable of reaching distant regions of the heavens. On the other, we still haven't figured out the solutions to some very basic questions on Earth, such as how to keep every one of God's children, safe, fed, and warm."

"Extreme emotions of elation or despair weren't part of my makeup, despite my life's unforseen twists and turns."

"Because of my medical situation, my path was far from typical: I ended up training for nearly ten years, starting from my AsCan days in 1998."

"There we were, French, German, Russian, Asian American, African American, listening to Sade's silky vocals and having a meal in space. Out the window we could see Afganistan, Iraq, and other troubled spots. Two hundred and forty miles above those strife-torn places, we sat in peace with people we once counted among our nation's enemies, bound by a common commitment to explore space for the benefit of all humanity. It was one of the most inspiring moments of my life."

"Going to space is transformative on so many different levels. I tell future explorers that when you work with others, make sure you work together as a team. Learn to see all people as potential space travelers together no matter what language they speak, no matter what they look like, no matter what food they eat, and know that we're all in this together. Work hard and share the fun."

"Space also inspired me to think about how we reach the next generation, how we prepare others to take our place and go off somewhere else and do much better things. It was a notion I would return to with increasing regulairty in the years to come."

"No matter what happens in our lives, we have to keep moving forward," I told them. "We have to keep doing our best, no matter what the circumstances. It is about your heart, dedication, and spirit."

"My experiences in the Astronaut Corps had taught me that you never know what will happen from day to day. It's best to experience life as fully as possible while you have the time, health, and opportunity."

"When bobby and I worked together to move ELC-2 out of the shuttle payload bay and hand it off to the space station's robotic arm, we helped resolve a long-standing historical injustice. Forty-three years after reacism forces Ed Dwight from the astronaut program, we became the first African American men to fly together on a shuttle mission."

"Seeing the world without geographic boundaries really puts things in perspective and makes one wonder why there is so much division, hatred, and malice."

"I stressed that our children needed more than just access to the benfits that STEAM education offered; they also needed the necessary support systems to ensure that acess leads to success."

"Luther Vandross song-Dance with my Father: "That song easily conjures up all the charm and comfort of home but returning to one's roots isn't just about nostalgia. It's also about responsibility, the desire to do something meaningful for those who have given you so much."
Profile Image for MaryBeth Long.
203 reviews2 followers
June 10, 2017
Mr. Melvin's life so far is an amazing story about a child from Lynchburg, VA who grew into a man who faced down adversity to make it into outer space and back. A University of Richmond and UVA grad, Melvin is smart, hard-working and loves his dogs. He names friends and family throughout but the book could be more human. I wish we could've learned what his parents/significant others/sibling thought and felt when he went about this American life.

Nice orbit, could use a bit more gounding.
Profile Image for Fritz42.
1,309 reviews
August 21, 2017
4.5 stars. Definitely a good read for me. I appreciated his writing style, bringing things down to Earth and telling his story as if he were just talking to you. Any forays into history were always pertinent and segued nicely with the main story. (Unlike some other space/science based stories I've read lately.)

Great story of Leland Melvin, the only person who has played in the NFL and gone to space. Those two things don't always go together in my head, but his book made it come to life for me.

He had a great set of parents, especially his dad, who help set his moral character and determination to do his best in a graceful spirit. Growing up in Virginia, he had to handle some very tough situations, working through them with insight and courage. Using his abilities on the football field, he was able to get a scholarship and attend the University of Richmond where he pursued and achieved a degree in chemistry.

His journey through the NFL for that short time while he was working for his Master's Degree had me wondering where he got his energy. His grit and determination was front and center during that time.

His journey with NASA and his achievement of becoming an astronaut was a part that I thoroughly enjoyed. His dedication to providing access to STEAM careers for underpriviledged and minority youth is a calling that he pursues today.

This man has had an incredible journey, and I think the subtitle sums it up best: An Astronaut's Story of Grit, Grace, and Second Chances. He had obstacles and stumbles in his life, but he didn't let them keep him from his goals, whether that was to play football, go to college, or join the Astronaut's Corp at NASA. He just found the strength in himself, and if he didn't feel he had that strength at the time, he was insightful enough to search out people in his support group and family to help him out.

He is an inspiration that I will be talking about with the young people in my life.
Profile Image for Keith.
14 reviews1 follower
October 8, 2017
Success is not linear, easy, or without challenge, but it is attainable with grit, perseverance, and help from others! This is the chief message I took from this book!

I’m thankful to have read this inspirational and poignant story about achievement, perseverance, overcoming challenges, handling the unexpected, second chances, and seizing opportunities. I could relate to Leland’s constant linkage to family, home, and friends throughout his journey. I think you will as well. I also appreciate his candor about racism and discrimination.

This story of one mans journey from humble beginnings to the NFL and NASA is riveting and inspiring. I’m blessed to have met and get to know Leland since he is a distinguished alum from the Univeristy of Richmond, where I work, and a member of our Board of Trustees.

I highly recommend and encourage anyone to read this wonderful story. You will be moved. Share it with young people, especially marginalized and underrepresented groups, so they can see themselves in Leland in hopes they will be inspired and change their trajectory in life.

127 reviews2 followers
April 17, 2017
Melvin isn't the most lyrical writer, but he certainly captures the special moments as well as more down-to-earth activities from his long career at NASA, with side-trips into his work making STEM learning more available for kids everywhere, and his brief time playing pro football and hosting niche television shows. His voice is honest and down-to-earth. Accused of cheating on an exam and nearly getting kicked out of college, training at NASA in Houston, and at Russia's Star City, a chance meeting with Katherine Johnson, camping with his dogs, flying on Atlantis, and celebrating his birthday in space.....This is the story of a life that's by turns Big, yet also quite humble, and very, very human. An especially good read for students, who will appreciate Melvin's character-building failures and soul-searching insights, as well as his amazing triumphs.
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