Former NASA Astronaut: Dealing With Police As A Black Man Is Scarier Than Space

Leland Melvin said that flying a space shuttle was significantly less nerve-wracking than being racially profiled by the police.

Former NASA astronaut Leland Melvin, who is Black, said Monday that the anxiety of traveling into space was nothing compared to the fear he felt when confronted by police officers.

Leland addressed racial inequality in the United States at a panel entitled 鈥淐elebrating Black Lives in the Space Industry,鈥 part of an online summit pushing for Mars exploration by 2030.

鈥淚 remember, I was in high school, and I was in a car with my girlfriend, and a police officer rolled up on us,鈥 Melvin said. 鈥淗e took her out of the car and told her that I was raping her because he wanted me to go to jail. And, you know, when young Black men get into the prison system, that they really never get out and have a second chance.鈥

Melvin said that all fathers in the Black community advise their sons to be 鈥渞eal respectful鈥 when addressing law enforcement, adding that he was more nervous speaking with that officer than he ever felt on a shuttle blasting through the atmosphere.

鈥淚鈥檝e been into space two times. I鈥檝e ridden this rocket with millions of pounds of thrust, and not once was I afraid of going to space,鈥 Melvin said. 鈥淚t鈥檚 when I鈥檝e been stopped by police officers that I didn鈥檛 even know that I was starting to sweat and that I was holding the steering wheel really hard.鈥

Anti-racism needs to be instilled in everyone, Melvin said, adding that it is worth considering matters from an astronaut鈥檚 point of view.

鈥淲hen we look at the planet from the space station, if any one of us makes a mistake, we鈥檙e all gone,鈥 Melvin said. 鈥淲e need to bring that reality back down here to Earth, especially when we go to Mars.鈥

Melvin retired from NASA in 2014 after flying on the space shuttle Atlantis in 2008 and 2009 and working to build the International Space Station.

Before that, the Detroit Lions drafted him in 1986 to play football until hamstring injuries ended his professional career. He is the only NFL player to go into space.

Watch the entire panel below.

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