When Ellison Onizuka made his second flight as a mission specialist aboard space shuttle Challenger in 1986, one of the personal effects he carried with him was a soccer ball signed by members of the Clear Lake High School girls and boys soccer team, where his daughter attended school. The shuttle, of course, broke apart 73 seconds into flight after the failure of an O-ring in one of its solid rocket boosters.
Eventually, about 120 tons of Challenger’s wreckage were recovered from the Atlantic Ocean, including three quarters of the crew cabin. In addition to the soccer ball signed by the Falcon soccer players, according to CollectSpace, among Onizuka’s personal items recovered from the shuttle were a football and an American flag.
Now that soccer ball has gone back into space. After it was recovered, the signed ball was eventually returned to Clear Lake High School. Astronaut Shane Kimbrough’s son attends the school, and as part of his current mission to the International Space Station, Kimbrough brought the ball to the station. He tweeted a photo late last week, saying, “This ball was on Challenger that fateful day. Flown by Ellison Onizuka for his daughter, a soccer player.”
As ever, the world spins, time passes, and things come back around. Now Onizuka’s daughter, Janelle Onizuka-Gillian, is a “Falcon Mom.” In a statement released by the school, she said, “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.” Indeed.