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, Yasiin Bey, 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.