A soccer ball that was to be carried to space by the ill-fated Space Shuttle Challenger has finally reached its destination, 31 years later. Prior to the January 28, 1986 launch, the ball was presented to NASA astronaut Ellison Onizuka by soccer players, including his daughter, from Clear Lake High School.
Onizuka was one of the seven astronauts killed when the shuttle exploded shortly after liftoff from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The ball was recovered among the wreckage and returned to the school, where it has been on display for the past three decades, according to NASA.
Last year, as he prepared for his mission to the International Space Station, astronaut Shane Kimbrough, whose son is a student at Clear Lake High, asked the school if he could carry an item to orbit.
The principal suggested sending the soccer ball to space, according to a NASA media release.
On February 3, Kimbrough tweeted a photo of the soccer ball in front of the station’s Cupola window, which faces the Earth, in honor of NASA’s Day of Remembrance.
Onizuka’s daughter, Janelle Onizuka-Gillian, whose signature appears on the ball, released a statement through Clear Lake High School.
“The soccer ball in many ways has continued the mission my father embarked upon so many years ago. It has continued to travel and explore space while inspiring so many through its history.”
Kimbrough and his Expedition 50 crew mates are scheduled to return to Earth in March.