A Lynchburg, Va., native and retired astronaut is the signature ambassador for a new space exhibition opening this month at the Virginia Museum of History & Culture (VMHC).
Leland D. Melvin, one of a handful of African-American astronauts, flew on Space Shuttle Atlantis. He is the only person drafted into the NFL to have flown in space.
Beginning March 18 and continuing through December 31, 2023, the Richmond museum will display Apollo: When We Went to the Moon chronicling how space exploration led to international cooperation both on and off Earth
Virginia’s role in the U.S. space program will be highlighted as part of the exhibition.
“As home to NASA’s Langley Research Center, Virginia and Virginians have been central to our past and future exploration of space,” Leland Melvin said in a statement. “At a young age I felt a strong connection to science that was fueled by my parents, teachers and a community that believed in me. I could not have imagined that as both a Langley engineer and an astronaut that I would be a part of that storied space legacy. I am excited to work with the VMHC, to share my science and engineering journey, orbital perspective and encourage young Virginians to be the next generation of explorers.”
“It would be impossible for us to tell the story of Virginia’s history in space exploration without Leland’s incredible, inspiring story, and it is our privilege to help share this legacy across the Commonwealth,” Jamie Bosket, President & CEO at the VMHC said in a statement.
The 7,000-square-foot exhibition organized by the U.S. Space & Rocket Center immerses visitors in the epic story of manned space flight through the eyes of the astronauts, but also through the experiences of the 400,000 scientists, engineers, and contractors who made our landings on the Moon possible 50 years ago.
The exhibition features many artifacts from the U.S. Space & Rocket Center’s collections as well as powerful media presentations that capture both the excitement and turbulent nature of this pivotal era in our history.
Visitors can touch a piece of the Moon, be transported to the Apollo 11 launch pad as part of an immersive audiovisual experience; leave their “footprints” behind as they walk across a virtual lunar surface; and climb aboard a full-scale Apollo 17 lunar rover model to experience how astronauts got around on the moon.
The plan that was adopted by NASA to land on the Moon was developed in Virginia. Spacecraft were meticulously designed and tested by Langley engineers, and in first-of-their-kind simulators, astronauts learned to join two small vehicles in the vastness of space, land on the lunar surface, and return safely to Earth. So successful was the work done here, that when asked what it was like to walk on the Moon, astronaut Neil Armstrong simply replied: “Like Langley.”
Melvin will join the VMHC for special public events at the museum throughout the year. On Saturday, April 15, 2023 at 3 p.m., space enthusiasts big and small are invited to attend an interactive program focused on Melvin’s book Chasing Space. In this inspirational memoir, the former NASA astronaut and NFL wide receiver shares his personal journey from the gridiron to the stars, examining the intersecting roles of community, perseverance, and grace that align to create opportunities for success.
Later in the year, Leland will join with Dr. Robert Satcher (a native of Hampton, Virginia) for a special program at the VMHC. Mr. Melvin and Dr. Satcher were together on Space Shuttle Atlantis – the first space mission to include two Black astronauts.
Visit VirginiaHistory.org/Events for other related programming throughout the exhibition’s run.
The Virginia Museum of History & Culture is located at 428 N Arthur Ashe Boulevard in Richmond’s Museum District. For more information call (804) 340-1800, visit VirginiaHistory.org, or connect on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
For more information on Apollo: When We Went to the Moon, visit VirginiaHistory.org/Apollo