The Way To World Peace Is Space Travel According To Astronaut Leland Melvin – So He’s Handing Out Free Tickets

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Former NASA astronaut, Leland Melvin has flown to outer space twice, boarding the STS-122 and STS-129 after he was told he never would, following a terrifying NASA training accident. But despite the odds, Melvin has become one of only 17 black astronauts and positioned himself as the only former NFL player to ever fly to space, while influencing a whole globe of people ready to tackle their own seemingly unachievable dreams through his inspiring journey. But his goal now is no longer to reach for his own stars, but rather to inspire a new generation of explorers to advance civilization and find the true definition of world peace and global unity which Melvin witnessed on his first trip to space.

This past week at the international technology conference Slush 2014, in Helsinki Finland, Leland presented a keynote speech, where the inspirational explorer shared travel stories, his epiphany  that the experience of space triggered while floating in orbit and the unbelievable opportunity he is giving the next generation of explorers – a free ride into space and a hopeful visualization of what world peace could really look like.

“We’ve all had set backs. We’ve all had things that have happened in our lives. I did my training in the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory. It’s a 6 million gallon pool where we train to do space walks. I got in the pool and we started going down and I realized there wasn’t a little pad in my helmet where you can press your nose against it to clear your ears. That’s how you clear your ears since you can’t put your hand in your helmet to clear them. And we went down to about 25 feet and I told the test director to turn the volume up in the headset. And from that point on, all I heard was white noise and static. They took me out of the pool. They popped my helmet off and blood was coming out of my ears. The doctor started talking to me and I couldn’t understand what he was saying. I couldn’t hear a thing. I was completely deaf. They ran me to the emergency room, they operated on my ear. But as an astronaut, you need hearing to fly in space. So I was medically disqualified to fly in space. All these years of training, all these years of working to get this goal and dream of flying in space was gone. At that point, my hearing started to slowly come back, but they still said I would never fly.

I went to Washington to work in education. I was an astronaut working to bring educators into the astronaut core. And then on February 1st 2003, many of you know that there was a tragedy of national proportion. We lost space shuttle Columbia STS-107. And this was one of the most tragic things that happened to me. It was such a national thing that happened. We lost seven of my friends in the Columbia. It was coming back home. There was a hole in the wing. And 3000 degree plasma went into the hole and melted the wing and it spun out of control and we lost these seven astronauts. But the biggest tragedy was when David Brown’s (late astronaut) father, I went to David’s home the night of the accident to console his father and mother and I walk in and his father says to me with tears in his eyes, ‘Leland, my son is gone. There is nothing you can do to bring him back. But the biggest tragedy would be if we don’t continue to fly in space to carry on their legacy.’ It was about their legacy at this point. And I’m not medically qualified to fly in space. I’m sitting here crying with him and thinking, ‘How am I going to honour this crew to carry their legacy on?’ We go to the different memorial services around the county for our fallen heroes and beside me in the airplane as we’re flying, is the chief flight surgeon of NASA, Rich Williams. He had a notebook and he was taking notes and he was watching me. On descent, he watched me clear my ears. When it came time for me to go back to Houston to this astronaut leadership program, Rich Williams called me in his office and he said ‘Leland, we’ve been watching you. I’m going to give you the opportunity to fly in space. You stayed the course.  

The good stuff is the never give up stuff. Previously, there were all white crew-cut astronauts. It wasn’t until the 80s when minorities and women came into the astronaut core. So the most incredible solution is the most diverse solution. There are 17 African American astronauts. And I was one of them. When you think about the people in the program from the women to the minorities to Nichelle Nichols from Star Trek being the recruiter to bring diversity into the astronaut core. It was an incredible time back then to bring this diversity in.

In 2008, I had the opportunity to fly on space shuttle Atlantis. I want all of you to have the experience to see the planet from this vantage point. I had the chance to see Russia and Helsinki from this vantage point. But when you see the world going around at every 90 minutes, at 17,500 miles per hour, it fundamentally changes you. It shows that we’re all connected in some way. And it’s an incredible experience. So, my first flight, people asked me, ‘How did you feel before you launched into space. Were you scared?’ I always think back to David Brown’s father on the night of that accident and that I have to be perfect to honour their legacy. I wasn’t afraid. We did our tasks. We were high fiving and chest-bumping in space.  

My job on my first mission into space was to install the European space agency’s Columbus Laboratory. And before I flew in space, I had talked to a lot of the German flight controllers who were monitoring the systems. I remember as I was walking out of this meeting, one flight controller from Germany looked at me and said, ‘Mr. Melvin, we’ve been waiting 10 years. Don’t screw it up.’ So as I’m using this robotic arm to install this laboratory, it’s moving slowly towards the space station. And at one moment, it stalled out. But it finally docked and everyone in Germany and NASA were celebrating. And then we had a space smorgasbord. And Peggy Wilson, who is the first female commander in the international space station. She invited us over for dinner. And we’re having this meal in space with people we used to fight against. Russia and Germany. African American, Asian American, French, German, Russian and the first female commander of the international space station going around the planet every 90 minutes, floating food into each other’s mouths, we’re listening to Sade singing Smooth Operator on the iPad as we’re having this meal. And when I think about this moment, this could be anyone’s home with the smell of food and warmth and friends. But we’re doing this off planet. We’re doing this with people we used to fight against. And I think that, if everyone were to have that opportunity to experience this, there would be no more wars. Once you can bring people together off planet, there’s no reason why we can’t bring people together on planet.

The world is just an incredibly beautiful place. It gives you that orbital perspective. You almost need new definitions of the colour blue to define the Caribbean. It’s just incredible. When you look at the Middle East, where a lot of unrest is going on now. You can’t see those fights and those battles and those wars from this vantage point. All you see is beauty. All you see is peace and serenity. And I think that again, if we as a technologically savvy community can help spread that message of peace and serenity and love, through technology, we can do that to advance the civilization and create this next generation of explorers. It’s our duty as a community.

I think about never giving up on our planet. If we don’t do the things that we must do to save our planet, we’re going to have to look elsewhere. Currently, Elon Musk is building a vehicle to take people one day to Mars to habitat Mars. Because he does believe that we need a back up to back up the Earth that we have now. Because if a 10 kilometre asteroid comes and hits this planet, that’s the dinosaur-killing size asteroid that can take us out. So keeping our civilization advanced and keeping our civilization moving forward is important to do.

I’m working with a program now called Spaceship Earth Grants. We want to give people the opportunity to fly in space for free. You basically sign an application. You can apply. It’s a way to do good for the planet. We want to incentivize people that have a great story and a great message. We also want to use those resources, which are crowd-funded to actually fund other education activities to create technologies to help our planet. This is the future of space travel. Bigelow is looking to create space habitats. So space hotels up in space. This is the future of space travel. Using the robotic arm to attach space hotels to the corner of the modules of the space station. These are some of the technologies that will be used. You can pay your way to space in the coming future. Even in aviation, there are things we need to get over and never give up on because these are the things that advance our civilization. We’ve got to keep moving forward.”

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If you are interested in space travel, apply to receive one of Leland’s Spaceship Earth Grants at www.spaceshipearthgrants.com. You must be over 18 to apply and the deadline is December 31, 2014.

Twitter:  @Astro_Flow

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