Shuttle crew includes two Black astronauts

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP)—The first orthopedic surgeon in space is flying aboard shuttle Atlantis, along with a former NFL pick.

Atlantis and its crew of six hooked up with the International Space Station on Nov. 18. Atlantis is delivering big spare parts to the space station. It’s an 11-day flight, which will keep the crew in orbit over Thanksgiving.

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IN ORBIT—Eight of the 12 crew members currently on the International Space Station pose for a photo Nov. 20 while space shuttle Atlantis remains docked. From left: NASA astronauts Leland Melvin, Robert L. Satcher Jr., both STS-129 mission specialists; Charles O. Hobaugh, STS-129 commander; Nicole Stott, STS-129 mission specialist; Russian cosmonauts Roman Romanenko and Maxim Suraev and NASA astronaut Jeffrey Williams, all Expedition 21 flight engineers; and European Space Agency astronaut Frank De Winne, Expedition 21 commander.

Lynchburg native Leland Melvin and Hampton native Dr. Robert Satcher Jr., both African-Americans, are among the crew.

Melvin is the primary robot arm operator and is on his second spaceflight. Satcher is on his first spaceflight. He will perform two spacewalks outside the space station and serve as the crew’s medical officer.

Satcher’s specialty is bone cancer.

“Being a physician and treating cancer patients was very rewarding,” he said. But space beckoned. “It was something that I always dreamed about, going into outer space.”

For his first spaceflight, Satcher will perform two spacewalks outside the International Space Station and serve as the crew’s medical officer. He also will file Twitter updates from orbit.

Born in Hampton, Va., Satcher, 44, has a medical degree from Harvard University and a doctorate in chemical engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was teaching at Northwestern University and as an orthopedic surgeon at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago when NASA invited him into the astronaut corps in 2004.

“It’s a very diverse training, not only mental but physical, and in that sense I think it’s very unique and certainly as challenging as anything else I’ve gone through,” he said.

His father, Robert Satcher Sr., is president of St. Paul’s College in Lawrenceville, Va. His uncle, Dr. David Satcher, served as U.S. surgeon general from 1998 until 2002. His wife, Dr. D’Juanna White-Satcher, is a pediatrician in Houston. They have a 2-year-old son and a 5-year-old daughter.

Melvin, the primary robot arm operator, is taking up a poem he’s written titled “Exploration” that has been set to music. It’s on his iPod.

He wants to draw youngsters in, by combining creativity and technology.

“I’m always excited about making the connection between science, math and the arts,” he said.

He’s also taking up a football and a needle to pump it up, but is mum on the details.

Melvin, 45, who’s from Lynchburg, Va., was a 6-foot, 205-pound wide receiver at the University of Richmond and ended up being picked by the Detroit Lions in the 11th round of the 1986 NFL draft. He never made a final NFL roster because of hamstring injuries and instead focused on science and engineering.

He began working in fiber optic sensors at NASA’s Langley Research Center in 1989. He was selected as an astronaut in 1998. This is his second spaceflight.

“We are the very lucky ones or blessed ones to have the opportunity” to fly in space, he said. “And it’s our mission, really, to try to convey that in whatever the best way possible is, for people to understand just how magnificent and how beautiful it is.”

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