When NASA astronaut and Richmond alumnus Leland Melvin, '86, made arrangements to swing by and visit a few of his former chemistry professors following his 13-day flight to the International Space Station, word spread through the department quietly but quickly.

By the time he arrived at the Gottwald Science Center on April 4, a few dozen chemistry students had made plans to spend a beautiful Friday afternoon indoors and at least two professors had come out of retirement to hear his remarks.  

Melvin shared a slideshow of photographs and a 17-minute video documenting the flight. He paused frequently to share personal stories and answer questions.

He also returned a T-shirt laden with signatures of Richmond students that his mentor, chemistry professor Bill Myers, had presented to him before take-off. A certificate that certified the shirt had been aboard the space shuttle Atlantis and had made the 5.3 million mile trip to the International Space Station and back accompanied it.

One student asked if Melvin was afraid at any point during the flight. He said that he felt so well prepared to handle maneuvers, and even malfunctions, that it was difficult to feel anything other than excitement during the course of the operation. He and the rest of the crew had spent over two years preparing for the flight.

Another student asked how one might prepare academically and professionally to become an astronaut. Melvin urged students to choose a scientific field that interested them because participants in NASA's Astronaut Candidate Training program come from all different backgrounds.

"I never planned to be an astronaut," said Melvin, who earned a master's degree in materials science engineering from the University of Virginia after he graduated from Richmond.

Four professors who taught Melvin during his days as a chemistry major at Richmond (1982–1986) were in the audience: Bill Myers, Emma Goldman, Ray Dominey and Stu Clough.