A journey into space with Astronaut/Engineer Leland Melvin
Deep space exploration is the final frontier and investment in space programs is accelerating progress for all mankind. Former astronaut Leland Melvin will give us a tour of the International Space Station and help students understand how math, science, and technology are essential to space exploration.
Laurie Hernandez: Hey there, my name is Laurie Hernandez. I'm an Olympic gold medalist for Team USA and proud to champion literacy and learning efforts with my friends at KPMG. I'd like to take you all on a little journey, one we can learn from and apply to our own lives, and learn from some special guests from across the country and space.
Seth Curry: Welcome to Philadelphia's home court.
Krystal Joy Brown: Welcome to Broadway.
Leland Melvin: Welcome to the International Space Station.
Laurie Hernandez: Welcome to Costa Mesa.
John Rost: Welcome to Crown Holdings.
Laurie Hernandez: This is KPMG Virtual Field Trips. In our day-to-day lives, we may think a lot about the things in front of us, next to us, and even below us. How often do you think about what's above and beyond? Outer space holds many stories and mysteries about our past, present and future.
The past few decades have seen great advancements in our exploration of outer space. In 1969, we put a man on the moon, and now we've set our sights on a neighboring planet, Mars. Most recently, NASA's Mars 2020 mission landed the Perseverance rover on the surface of Mars on February 18th, 2021. Perseverance is conducting research to see if there was ever life on Mars and if we can produce oxygen from the Martian atmosphere. With the landing of Perseverance, we're one step closer one day to sending humans to Mars. Of course, a journey to Mars is a very long time for a human to be away from earth.
So we need to understand the effects of being in space for such a long time. Cue the International Space Station located 250 miles above earth and traveling at a speed of over 17,000 miles per hour is a laboratory used by 18 countries from all over the world. Because people can live on the International Space Station, it will allow for the study of long-term effects of weightlessness on the human body. We'll use it to discover the adjustments that need to be made to current methods before astronauts are sent to Mars and beyond.
As you can imagine, there's a lot that goes into the operation of a gigantic space laboratory. Lucky for us, we're about to hear from a man who has been there himself. Wait until you see what we have in store. To learn more about space, we could go to NASA's headquarters or maybe an observatory. But honestly, there's only so much you can see from earth, that's why we're headed for the stars.
Leland Melvin: Welcome to the International Space Station, the largest structure humans have ever put into space. From end to end, the International Space Station is 357 feet long which is just shy of the length of a football field. A great deal of the structure are the arrays of solar panels which provide its power. At this point, you might be asking yourself, how do we get this massive station into space? Truth be told, it had to be taken into space piece by piece. The International Space Station, it was gradually built while on orbit by spacewalking astronauts and robotics. While it was no small feat, all these pieces and parts have come together to make something truly remarkable.
Today the International Space Station has more living space than a five bedroom house. It has six sleeping quarters, a gym and a 360 degree viewing window to look out into space. It turns out the gym is very important to have if you're living in space. While stationed there, astronauts have to work out for two hours per day just to maintain their bone and muscle mass.
Over the years, 244 people from 19 countries have visited the International Space Station and it has been continuously occupied since November 2000. If you ever wanted to be amongst the select few that have visited the International Space Station, you'd have your work cut out for you. The trip from earth isn't too bad, about four hours, but once you arrive, there's lots of maintenance and experimentation to be done. The station is, and always will be a work in progress. So you'd have to help with upgrading the technology aboard the International Space Station like replacing batteries and adding new solar panels. All this, in addition to two hours of workouts per day.
So why make all this effort? Why is it important to have humans residing in space?
Well, it's because the International Space Station serves as a very important stepping stone to the celestial bodies that are even further away like the moon and Mars. The station teaches us so much about what we need to accomplish in order to have people live in space. With the research that's being done at the International Space Station, we move closer to what would be an astounding accomplishment, making humans a multi-planet species.
Laurie Hernandez: Now that we've got some background on the International Space Station, let's ask Leland a few questions.
Leland Melvin: Hello students, my name is Leland Melvin. I had a chance to play in the NFL for a little bit, but also flew to space. I've always loved math and science and art and everything around steam.
So if anything that you wanna do in your life, whatever you love, you can do it if you put your mind to it because I've had people that told me I could never be an astronaut or I can never be an NFL player. But it was people around me that believed in me when sometimes I didn't believe in myself and I was able to rise and go to the International Space Station, which you see up there. That you can do or be anything you put your mind to.
Krystal Joy Brown: Hey Leland, what kind of math goes into aeronautics, the science of travel through the air?
Leland Melvin: Aeronautics is the study of aviation and flight. So when you see an airplane flying overhead, there are some equations that involve how that plane is actually able to fly. It's heavier than air. And so the airplane right there and there are four forces; thrust, drag, weight, and lift. And if you look at how these things interact; this will allow the plane to actually lift up.
Laurie Hernandez: Hey Leland, what do I have to learn to become an astronaut?
Leland Melvin: To become an astronaut, you need to learn things. You need to know your math and your science, but you also need to know how to live in this environment called space. You know, because in the sun, the temperature is 250 degrees Fahrenheit, in the shade is minus 250. We're floating around in microgravity, there's electrons and protons and things that are coming through the vehicle. So you have to be healthy too, you have to be strong. You know, when you exercise in space, it keeps your bones from getting weaker and it keeps your muscles from getting weaker also. So we have to eat healthy, we have to work hard, we have to train and we have to learn different disciplines like aeronautics as we talked about, we have to learn about propulsion, orbital mechanics, all these things to get us up to the International Space Station.
Darnell Abraham: Hey Leland, what are some of your favorite facts about outer space?
Leland Melvin: Some of my favorite facts about space are how fast you go when you leave the planet. We launch from three, two, one, liftoff, in eight and a half minutes later in this space shuttle, we are flying 17,500 miles per hour. We have to keep going around the planet and increasing our orbit to get to the space station. So the space station is going 17,500, we're going 17,500 and these two big things have to come together and dock ever so slightly, so we don't tear them apart.
Seth Curry: Hey Leland, what is it like to travel to space?
Leland Melvin: Launching on a rocket like the space shuttle here, I'm sitting right up under that window and three, two, one, liftoff, your body is just shaking, you're moving, the solid rocket boosters light, and now your whole vehicle is just shaking, your head is moving. You can almost not even see the screen. The screen is nothing but blurred lines until we take off. And in two and a half minutes, the solid rocket boosters’ jet us and these white things right here jets us and the ride gets much smoother.
Six and a half minutes later, we've run out of fuel, the engines cut off and now you're in space. You're under your seatbelt, you push off with your back and now you're floating. And everything that you've dropped is now floating around you and you push over and look out the window and you could see planet earth and you're traveling 17,500 miles per hour. The ocean, the color of the oceans, you need new definitions to describe the color blue that you see in the oceans. It's just simply incredible and now you're living and working in space.
John Rost: Hey Leland, is there other intelligent life in the universe?
Leland Melvin: You know, I haven't seen that life yet but we have telescopes, we have different types of systems looking and listening for signs of intelligent life. And there are planets out there called exoplanets that have the temperature similar to our planet. They have water, there's green. So, if there's similar things like what we have on planet earth, there's heat, there's water, usually there's life.
And so right now, these exoplanets are like light years away. I mean, they're billions of miles away. So we can't get there with our conventional technology because by the time we get there, we'd be 300 years old, 400 years old. So, we wanna build new technology so we can go visit these planets and get there in a time that we can still be explorers.
Krystal Joy Brown: Hey Leland, was there a time in your life that you had a challenge or obstacles you had to overcome?
Leland Melvin: I've had to overcome many obstacles in my life and one of them was when I was training to be an astronaut to do space walks. We have this five million gallon pool that has a submerged space station in space shuttle. And you go down in there and you float in your suit to do repairs, to do the things you're gonna do in space. But in my training session, I didn't have what I needed in my helmet, someone forgot to put it in and I lost all my hearing, I went deaf. And the doctors told me that I would never fly in space, but I didn't give up. I kept going, I kept going.
My hearing solely came back in my right ear and they said, you're still medically disqualified, but I kept going. And I had people that believed in me when I didn't even believe in myself. And so eventually, because I didn't give up, someone signed a waiver for me to fly to space. And I flew two times to space because I did not give up. So whatever you're going through, whatever's happening in your life, I know it can be tough sometimes, but never give up and believe in yourself and you can get through it.
Laurie Hernandez: How cool was it to hear from Leland? He's a real life astronaut. If all this talk of space has got you wanting to make some celestial observations, we've got you covered with some stargazing tips. Here's how you can do it at home. To have fun stargazing, you might think that you'll need a big fancy telescope but that's just not true. All you'll need is a clear night and a set of eyes to look up with.
First, you'll want to find a good dark place to do it. If you can't avoid outdoor lights like streetlights, that's fine, you'll still be able to see some bright shine. Once you're settled and gazing upward, you'll be looking at constellations. Constellations are imagined groupings of stars in the sky that help us to map out all the stars in the sky. If you're stargazing in the winter, you can look for Orion. Orion can be identified by four stars that form the corners of a rectangle, three stars in a row that form his belt and another three stars that form his sword. If you're stargazing in the spring or early summer, you can certainly spot the Big Dipper. The Big Dipper is shaped like a bowl and a handle. There are three stars in the Big Dipper's handle organized in line and there are four stars that make up the Big Dipper's bowl. The entire Big Dipper looks somewhat like a kite with the string being the handle and the bowl being the kite itself.
If you have a smartphone available to you, there are plenty of free apps that help you identify the stars you're seeing in the night sky. Your phone's GPS can use your location and orientation to identify anything in the sky that you point at. Every night we get the chance to look into the vast expanse of the universe. Try it for yourself. All you have to do is look up.
Wow, we learned so much about space exploration. Let's take a minute to reflect on all we learned in today's takeaways from the day. First off, we learned all about the International Space Station and all the work that is being done there to prepare humans to be able to travel large distances through space. There is so much to learn from living in space and we were lucky enough to hear from Leland Melvin who's been there himself. Leland also taught us a bit about aeronautics, study of aviation and how machines are able to fly. Aeronautics is based around four forces; thrust, drag, weight and lift. To get a space vehicle to fly, we need to engineer aircrafts that can overcome the weight and drag with their thrust and lift.
Additionally, we learned that math and science are such important subjects to learn about for space exploration. The scientists, engineers, technicians and astronauts that make space exploration possible have all studied their STEM subjects for many years. We also learned a bit about stargazing and how to find the constellations Orion and the Big Dipper. Most importantly, Leland taught us that we can do anything we set our minds to. Even if we face an obstacle like Leland did when he was temporarily deaf, we should never give up. Leland thought he would never be able to fly to space with his condition but because he never gave up hope he was able to fly to space twice.
Well kiddos, this is where I bid you goodbye. But before we say goodbye, let's hear once more from Leland Melvin.
Leland Melvin: I know that sometimes it can be hard to connect the things you're learning in school with your future plans. A good education is the foundation for the limitless possibilities you saw in today's episode. I encourage you to be a lifelong learner. To learn more about KPMG and its commitment to education and lifelong learning please visit www.kpmg.us. Until next time, keep rising.