Chasing Space Young Reader's Edition

Book review by
Kyle Jackson, Common Sense Media
Chasing Space Young Reader's Edition Book Poster Image
Stellar memoir of an elite athlete and astronaut's journey.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

A very detailed picture of what life is like for a NASA scientist and aspiring astronaut, including the extensive training and study required at each and every step of the way. The appendix has a number of DIY science projects related to the basic principles of rocketry. 

Positive Messages

Melvin has set out to inspire the next generation of space professionals with his story "to continue to spread the word about the possibilities and connections, lighting the path for journeys humanity has yet to take." He also offers inspiring messages such as, "We have to keep doing out best, no matter what the circumstances. It is about your heart, dedication, and spirit."

Positive Role Models & Representations

Melvin's path from NFL wide receiver to professional engineer to NASA researcher, Ph.D., astronaut, educator, and finally space traveler is truly incredible. His hard work, dedication, preparation, and family foundation are all revealed as essential elements of his success. As an African-American in a mostly white astronaut program, he's both a trailblazer and an exemplar of a long tradition of engineers and cosmonauts of color. 

Violence & Scariness

Several of the fatal missions in space history are referenced, speaking to the courage necessary to face the perils of space travel. 

Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Leland Melvin's Chasing Space is a kid-friendly autobiography of an incredibly talented, dedicated, and adaptable athlete-turned-astronaut. The book gives an inside look at the long and difficult road to become a NASA scientist and the rigorous preparation and practice required to make it all the way to outer space. Melvin leans on his supportive family and his Christian faith and looks to both as sources of inspiration. 

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What's the story?

In CHASING SPACE, Leland Melvin tells the epic story of how he became the first man to both be drafted into the NFL and travel to space. Raised in Lynchburg, Virginia, the smart and athletic Leland quickly becomes an excellent student-athlete, encouraged by his supportive parents and extended family. Studying chemistry and working in a lab as an undergraduate, Leland is able to attract enough attention as a wide receiver to get drafted by the Detroit Lions. Knowing that professional football careers are notoriously unstable, Leland wisely chooses to begin engineering graduate school as he conditions, learns playbooks, and tries to find a way to stick in the league. Sure enough, his brief pro career is over before it starts, cut short by a hamstring injury and a better offer in his chosen field: space exploration. 

The rest of the book charts his meteoric rise from researcher to robotics engineer to an eventual placement in the astronaut program. After a dramatic injury during deep-sea training causes permanent damage, it's unclear if he will ever be physically cleared to fly. Leland must rely on his faith and his discipline to continue his career as an engineer and educator at NASA, and his hard work pays off when he is eventually assigned to two missions flying to the International Space Station. His star-studded life story sees him crossing paths with space pioneers, pop stars such as Pharrell, Mos Def, and will.i.am, and even both Presidents Bush (junior and senior) and Obama, eventually leading to minor fame and a job hosting the TV show Child Genius. As an educator and advocate, Leland continues to encourage and contribute to programs in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math), particularly for students of color and around the world who may not know about the opportunities available to become space professionals. 

Is it any good?

Leland Melvin's determination, courage, perseverance, and adaptability all shine through in this inspiring account of a remarkable career. Throughout Chasing Space, he constantly makes sure to point out all the opportunities and second chances given to him by various people and institutions that believed in him, stressing the importance of having a positive attitude and always showing your willingness to learn and grow.

With a straightforward writing style featuring fascinating insights into the realities of space travel and a larger-than-life story that needs no embellishment, Melvin passes on his wisdom to future generations "to spread the word about possibilities and connections, lighting the path for journeys humanity has yet to take." Any young aspiring astronaut or budding engineer should read this book for an inside look at the arc of a career in science at the highest level.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the space program shown in Chasing Space. Do you think it's important for scientists and engineers to keep exploring the far reaches of space? What sorts of things can scientists learn from studying places and objects beyond our atmosphere?

  • Would you ever want to travel to space? If you wanted to become an astronaut, what sort of training would you need? Think about all the different skills Leland had to develop before he ever took flight. 

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