December 5, 2007

300 People Will See Melvin Off: Family and Friends Travel to Florida to Watch Him Lift Off in the Space Shuttle

By A.J. Hostetler, Richmond Times-Dispatch, Va.

Dec. 5--Astronaut Leland Melvin is getting some down time with his family as preparations continue for his launch aboard the shuttle Atlantis tomorrow afternoon.

Melvin's sister, Cathy Clarke of Rustburg, said yesterday that she was looking forward to a family-only gathering at a barbecue dinner last night in Florida. Today, relatives will enjoy their last visit with Melvin before the launch from Kennedy Space Center.

. . .

The launch-day forecast calls for a 90 percent chance of acceptable weather, NASA said yesterday. The agency's mission management team decided unanimously to continue the launch countdown. That vote allows NASA to start pumping the fuel -- liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen -- into tanks inside the shuttle Atlantis.

Nearly 300 of Melvin's friends and relatives are expected at the launch. Already at Kennedy are his parents, Deems and Grace Melvin of Lynchburg, along with his sister.

"Everybody's excited," Clarke said. "We're looking forward to a great launch."

At her meeting today with Melvin, Clarke said she plans to say: "Hi, baby brother. We're so proud of you, and we love you."

. . .

Melvin and his colleagues will wake up at 6 a.m. tomorrow for a 4:31 p.m. liftoff. If Atlantis does not launch by Dec. 13, the mission would be rescheduled for after Jan. 2.

Atlantis will deliver the European Space Agency's Columbus laboratory module to the International Space Station. The shuttle crew will install the $1 billion lab module with three spacewalks during an 11-day mission.

In addition to Melvin, the crew includes commander Stephen N. Frick; pilot Alan G. Poindexter; Stanley G. Love and Rex J. Walheim as well as Hans Schlegel and Leopold Eyharts of the European Space Agency. It's the first flight for Melvin, Poindexter and Love.

Numerous other Virginians plan to be on hand to watch Melvin fly into space. A childhood friend, Phillip Scott of Chesterfield County, will be there with his wife and daughter. Melvin was a groomsman for the Scotts' wedding.

University of Richmond chemistry chairman William Myers is heading to Florida to watch his former student head into space.

Six of Melvin's college buddies are leaving Richmond today. They'll pick up a couple more friends in Atlanta before meeting up with others in Florida, said ex-Spiders linebacker Rafe Wilkinson.

. . .

The last Virginian to fly in space was Charlie Camarda, a longtime NASA Langley Research Center engineer who flew in 2005 in NASA's first spaceflight after the 2003 loss of the shuttle Columbia and its crew, including Virginia native David Brown.

It was Camarda's selection to the astronaut corps that encouraged Melvin to apply while he worked at Langley as a materials scientist. He joined NASA's astronaut corps in 1998 and was assigned last year to the upcoming mission. Contact A.J. Hostetler at (804) 649-6355 or [email protected]


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