We Love Astronaut Leland Melvin’s Official NASA Portrait

NASA astronaut Leland Melvin with his dogs Jake and Scout. Credit: NASA.

Astronaut Leland Melvin won the internet this week – and increased NASA’s “Awwww!” factor — when this photo surfaced of him and his two dogs, Jake and Scout. Melvin admitted on Twitter that he snuck the dogs into the photo shoot for his “real” official NASA portrait (see below). A look at his Twitter feed shows he obviously loves his dogs, as they dominate the images he shares.

Melvin appeared on the National Geographic Show “Dog Whisperer” and according to a blurb about the show Jake and Scout wandered into Leland’s yard one day. They were on the show to help with Jake, who is very protective of Leland and won’t let anyone approach him.

The Tweet that started it all:

And here’s Melvin’s real official photo that is used on his NASA bio:

Astronaut Leland D. Melvin, mission specialist for the STS-129 space shuttle mission. Credit: NASA.
Astronaut Leland D. Melvin, mission specialist for the STS-129 space shuttle mission. Credit: NASA.

‘Stupid Astronaut Tricks’ Spread The Joy of Space To New Astronaut Class

NASA astronaut candidate Christina Hammock starts a fire successfully during wilderness survival training near Rangeley, Maine in August 2013. Credit: NASA/Lauren Harnett

You sure couldn’t hide those grins on television from the Astronaut Candidate Class of 2013 when the call came from the International Space Station.

NASA’s latest recruits were at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. at an event today (Thursday) for students. Amid the many youngster questions to Expedition 38 astronauts Mike Hopkins and Rick Mastracchio, astronaut candidate Jessica Meir managed one of her own: was the wait worth it?

Hovering in front of the camera, four-time flyer Mastracchio vigorously shook his hand “no” to laughter from the audience. Hopkins answered her more seriously: “It is definitely worth it. It is the most amazing experience I think you can ever have. Floating is just truly incredible; it just never gets old.”

Minutes later, Hopkins demonstrated a “stupid astronaut trick”: doing Road Runner-style sprinting in place in mid-air. The laughing crew signed off — “So they’re floating off now?” asked event moderator and veteran astronaut Leland Melvin — and the new class had the chance to answer questions of their own.

While the class expressed effusive delight at being astronauts — they were hired last year, so the feeling is quite new to them — Meir said that there was some sadness at leaving the careers they had before. As a recent article in Air&Space Smithsonian pointed out, this class will have several years to wait for a seat into space because there aren’t robust shuttle crews of seven people going up several times a year any more. The Soyuz only carries three people at a time, and there are fewer missions that last for a longer time.

There also is some ambiguity about where the astronauts will go. The International Space Station has been extended until at least 2024, but astronaut candidate Anne McClain added today that an asteroid or Mars are other things being considered for their class. “This class is such an exciting time to be at NASA,” she said.

Other questions asked of the class at the event include who is going to go in space first, and from a wee future astronaut, which planet they’d prefer to go to. You can watch the whole broadcast on the link above.

Tributes Mount As Sally Ride’s 30th Anniversary In Space Approaches

NASA astronaut Sally Ride, who died in 2012. Credit: NASA

Sally Ride was only 32 years old when she flew into space for the first time 30 years ago, in June 1983. She died last year at 61, at an age that many considered very young. In that generation of time, however, the exploits of America’s first woman in space in flight and education touched countless Americans.

This week, the accolades are piling up for the two-time space flyer. Besides her astronaut exploits, she was a Rogers Commission investigator of the 1986 Challenger explosion and the founder of Sally Ride Science, which encourages children to pursue careers in science, technology, education and math (STEM).

In the past few days alone, Ride generated a bunch of posthumous tributes:

– She will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom sometime later this year;

– NASA made a new internship program named after her;

– The EarthKAM science instrument (which includes participation from students) on the International Space Station will bear her name.

And that’s not all. There were also star-studded public ceremonies devoted to her memory.

Student dancers from the North Carolina School of the Arts perform during a  national tribute to Sally Ride at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on May 20, 2013. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls
Student dancers from the North Carolina School of the Arts perform during a national tribute to Sally Ride at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on May 20, 2013. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Music, art and science all met at a gala at Washington, D.C.’s John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on Monday (May 20). The performances focused on things that had meaning to Ride, NASA stated, including a performance of Claude Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” and a reading of Mary Oliver’s poem “The Summer Day.”

Speakers at the event included astronaut Leland Melvin (now NASA’s associate administrator for education), astronaut Pam Melroy (a former space shuttle commander), and Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland.

“I’m thrilled to pay tribute to Sally because her dedication and superb talent cemented the value of women’s contributions in space and in science, smoothing the path for all women to achieve success,” stated Melroy.

“Sally showed the world what was possible, opening the eyes of millions of women and men to what could be. Her achievements in space inspired a generation of young women, and her achievements in STEM education will pass that legacy of inspiration on to future generations.”

The Smithsonian also held a lecture in honor of Ride’s memory on May 17.

The 1.5-hour lecture (which is just above this text and definitely worth your time to see) includes commentary from a cross-section of space experts on Ride’s legacy. Speakers represented everything from the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum to NASA’s Johnson Space Center to USA Today.

“We all admire Dr. Ride, but I don’t know that everyone in the room appreciates fully and remembers fully the history of what she accomplished,” said Margaret Weitekamp, a curator in the Smithsonian’s space history division who focuses on women in aviation, in opening remarks to the event.

Weitekamp pointed to investigations in the 1950s concerning women in space, showing that they could have advantages over men: they’re smaller (easier to fit in a spacecraft) and at the time were linked to studies showing women have fewer pulmonary problems, a higher tolerance to pain, and better performance in isolation tests.

She also cited early forays for women in space, including Lovelace’s Women in Space program, which she characterized as the first thorough physiological investigation of how women fare in that field. You can read more about their exploits on this NASA page.

What do you think is Sally Ride’s greatest legacy? Share your thoughts in the comments.