Gay Yee-Hill: We're delighted to welcome one of NASA's finest, Leland Melvin. He is the agency's associate administrator for education. He's also a former astronaut, who's flow two shuttle missions to the International Space Station. And he's also one of our favorite people.
Leland Melvin: Thank you, Gay. Too Kind.
Gay: So let's talk about how you got here. I mean, you've had quite a career. We have video of you we can show right now of your days as an astronaut. We can cut to that video right now. There you are.
Leland: That was the good old days, flying and floating in space, working with people from all around the world. When I think about STEM education, science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the people that got me in this blue flight suit were my teachers or my parents, were the community. So it's so important that it takes a village to raise a child, and we're that collective village. Watching Curiosity land on Mars will excite so many students to be future astronauts and walk on the Martian surface.
Gay: So there you are. That's what you're doing right there, trying to inspire kids. Why has NASA taken on this as a priority?
Leland: Well it's so important that if you look at all these scientists and engineers in this control room, we need to back-fill them with the future in middle school and maybe even elementary school to get them focused on STEM, science, technology, engineering and mathematics. These 'STEMies' as we call them could be future doctors, they can be future lawyers, but they can all have an ability to help our economy, to help our civilization and so when I think about us, NASA, inspiring these kids, they're going to be taking your seat, they're going to be taking my seat and the people in this room.
Gay: So how do you inspire kids because I mean, to be truthful, STEM may not be cool.
Leland: Well my mom gave me a chemistry set when I was in 8th grade, and I mixed these two dissimilar chemicals together and blew up the most fantastic explosion in her living room.
Gay: (Laughs) Thank you, Leland.
Leland: But it made me become a chemistry major so hands-on experiential activities are what we do with our NASA education programs. One of the programs, Summer of Innovation, has kids building and developing and creating. We have LEGOs in space, LEGOs where kids can look at how gravity effects it on the ground but how astronauts use the same type of device in space and how it changes because of the lack of gravity.
Gay: Let's talk about some of the partnerships that NASA has with different agencies and institutions to get people jazzed up.
Leland: It's so important that all the federal agencies that do STEM work together to leverage those resources. But we're also working with other partners like entertainers, ball players, because there's STEM in everything. The physics in football. Donovan McNabb, we were in his football camp teaching kids that physics principles can help them be better football players. Or the music, sounds, transmissions coming from deep space, like from Curiosity, can all be part of music or signals or those types of things so it's very important that we have all those.
Gay: Well it is a real treat to have you here. Thanks for spending all this time with us. And I know that you're looking forward to seeing Curiosity land on Mars. Okay, all you kids out there that are watching this at your launch parties, go Curiosity.