NASA astronaut Leland Melvin talks "Chasing Space"

NASA astronaut Leland Melvin

NASA astronaut Leland Melvin is one of just over 550 people ever to travel to space, but his path into orbit sets him apart.

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He was a standout wide receiver at the University of Richmond and was drafted by the Detroit Lions in the 1986 NFL draft. Melvin tells his remarkable story in a memoir called "Chasing Space: An Astronaut's Story of Grit, Grace, and Second Chances."

Melvin's interest in science began at a young age.

"My mother gave me a chemistry set that was not OSHA-certified, age inappropriate, and I created an explosion in her living room and that activated my brain to be a scientist," Melvin said Thursday on "CBS This Morning."

Asked how he achieved such success in his career, Melvin, who was a crew member of Space Shuttle Atlantis that launched into space in 2008, responded: "There was a lot of people that had my back when I failed. My mother and father said you can do anything you put your mind to." 

He also said football prepared him to endure the rigors of becoming an astronaut.

"I think the football training in the NFL, that teamwork, that dedication, that discipline, you know, the hard practices, coming back from those hard practices and continuing to play is something that helped model the astronaut training program because it was long days, many years," Melvin said.  

Now he's trying to inspire younger generations to also "chase space."

"My mission is to take the experiences that I had in space, seeing this incredible planet, going around every 90 minutes, seeing the sun rise and the sun set every 45, and bring that down to the classroom so the kids can say, 'Wow, I can do that. And that guy looks kind of like me. Maybe I can be an astronaut,'" Melvin said.