(CNN)A police stop could have cost former NASA astronaut Leland Melvin his career in space before he ever got started.
Melvin, who was never afraid launching into space on two Space Shuttle Atlantis missions to help build the International Space Station, never knew what was going to happen when the cops pulled him over.
"I've been on this rocket with millions of pounds of thrust and not once was I afraid of going to space," said Melvin, who is Black. "It's when I've been stopped by police officers that I didn't even know ... I was starting to sweat and just holding the steering wheel really hard."
"Every father in the Black community has a conversation with their son to tell them that if you get stopped by an officer, you know, you assume the position, which is 10-2 (hands on the wheel), look straight ahead," he added. "You tell the officer, you know, you're real respectful, you say you're reaching for your obvious things."
Melvin spoke Monday during a panel celebrating Black lives in the space industry during the 2020 Virtual Humans to Mars Summit hosted by Explore Mars, a nonprofit organization that advocates for the human exploration of Mars.
Panelists -- who shared their personal experiences and discussed the Black Lives Matter movement, the death of George Floyd, and subsequent protests -- included former NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, NASA Deputy Manager of Commercial Lunar Payload Services Camille Alleyne and Danielle Wood, director of the Space Enabled Research Group in MIT's Media Lab.
Melvin can still remember one traffic stop when he was a student at Heritage High School in Lynchburg, Virginia, where he graduated in 1982.