Pelham Examiner

Pelham Examiner

Pelham Examiner

Astronaut Leland Melvin tells students how he chased space—and how they can too


Astronaut and former NFL wide receiver Leland Melvin visited middle and high school students and community members in the Pelham Memorial High School auditorium Oct. 3, kicking off the school district’s yearlong Pelham Chases Space initiative.

At the event, Melvin displayed various pictures from his life and time in space, answering as many questions as possible in the sessions with students and community members. He is the author of the autobiography “Chasing Space,” which tells of his careers as astronaut, NFL player, material scientist, photographer and White House STEM education advisor.

PMHS junior Christoper O’Meara asked Melvin how he dealt with the idea of going into space knowing fellow astronauts did not make it back home.

“When he said that his friends were on the spaceships and passed away, he talked about how he wasn’t fearful about that and it actually motivated him to go even more,” said O’Meara. “It was impactful that he did it for his friend’s legacy and not for his own gain.”

Senior Genevieve Pereira said, “From my experience hoping to pursue astronomy, it’s great to see how much he accomplished. It’s also very inspiring that he has basically lived so many full lives in his lifetime and he is still quite young.”

Chasing Space events this year will include a book discussion in November, movie nights, an art exhibit and creative writing challenge in February, an astronaut chopped-food challenge in March, a stomp rocket build in April, a STEAM day in May and the Pelham Science and Engineering Fair in June.

Dr. Tom Callahan, Pelham director of math and science, said the district hopes “to work together to inspire the next generation of scientists, engineers, astronauts, artists, and poets and writers to unite the community around some experiential and authentic learning experiences for everyone that parents and kids and teachers can all share in.”

“We get caught up in politics and problems in the world,” said Callahan. “This is an opportunity for everyone to put those things aside and be inspired by space and astronauts, while focusing on things that unify us, not divide us,” 

Chasing Space is the latest effort in a STEM collaboration between the district and Dr. Kim Riegel, community member and founder of the nonprofit MINDSET. Riegel wanted to expand her relationship with the school district and be involved in a school-community collaboration as the pandemic hit in March 2020.

She started by discussing possible events for Earth Day.

“We didn’t want the pandemic to deter us from doing science programming, so we moved Earth Day and some of the other programs that we wanted to do online and virtual,” said Callahan. “What grew out of that was the ask a scientist series, where people would come in and talk to K-5 or 6-12 students about their work.”

Through recurring collaborations like STEM movie series at the Picture House, Callahan and Riegel’s main focus was to show students that anyone can participate in the sciences.

In 2021, the school district, Riegel and the Junior League of Pelham came together to kick off the first school year-long event, which was grant funded by the Pelham Education Foundation and based on the book “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer. The Pelham community got to hear the inspiring story from Kamkwamba himself.

Callahan said, “Pelham Harnesses the Wind was a major success, and a great way to learn and grow for the next iteration,” which is the larger collaboration that is Pelham Chases Space.


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About the Contributor
Kira Findikyan, Business Editor
Kira is a junior at Pelham Memorial High School and this will be her sixth year on the Pelham Examiner. She loves reading and writing, and wrote previously for the Colonial Times and The News of Pelham. Kira enjoys playing soccer and is a self-proclaimed mac and cheese connoisseur.

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