Former astronaut visits Aurora high schools to stress importance of STEM instruction

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CENTENNIAL | It started with an explosion, an experiment with a home chemistry set gone comically wrong in a suburban home.

“I made the most fantastic explosion,” said former astronaut and current NASA administrator Leland Marvin during an appearance at Eaglecrest High School Thursday. “That one chemistry set fueled my career.”

From those inauspicious beginnings as a grade school student, Leland Melvin started to map his route to space. Melvin appeared at two Aurora high schools Thursday to detail a career that included stints as a professional football player and ended with two trips to space. He also took the forum as an opportunity to encourage the next generation of chemists, engineers and astronauts.

Melvin spoke to students at Central and Eaglecrest high schools Aug. 30 as part of a wider push to drum up interest in science, technology, engineering and math related fields of study for high school students.

Melvin spoke about his own high school career in Virginia, his football scholarship to the University of Richmond, his brief career as a wide receiver in the National Football League, his work at the NASA Langley Research Center and his two expeditions to the Space Shuttle Atlantis as a mission specialist. He detailed the most recent Rover expedition to Mars, and showed clips featuring pop star will.i.am and Bobak Ferdowsi, the 32-year-old NASA flight engineer who earned international attention for his Mohawk haircut.

Underlying his casual demeanor and easy anecdotes was a serious focus on science, a priority he made clear to the students gathered in the Eaglecrest High School auditorium.

“You are that next generation,” Melvin said, insisting that the students could eventually be the ones responsible for a human expedition to Mars. “That’s why I’m here. It’s about you guys.”

The students responded with a barrage of questions and fervent requests for autographs. They asked what it felt like to return to the earth after a trip to the International Space Station. One student asked about the likelihood of a kid from Aurora becoming an astronaut.

That answer was an easy “yes” for Melvin.

“No matter what you want to do, just be inspired,” Melvin said.