The Bittersweet Reason NASA Launched A Soccer Ball Into Space

It marked the completion of its 30-year mission.


After 30 years, the ball was finally able to complete its mission.

In 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded over Cape Canaveral, Florida, just 73 seconds after launch. All seven crew members perished and most of the shuttle either immediately disintegrated, or was destroyed when it fell to the ocean.

One of the few items from the Challenger that remained intact was a soccer ball belonging to astronaut Ellison Onizuka. Onizuka’s daughter, Janelle, gave the ball to her father to take into space. It was signed by her classmates on the the varsity and junior varsity soccer teams at Clear Lake High School in Houston, Texas.

“It was amazing, the condition it was in after the explosion,” Janelle Onizuka told ABC News. “By virtue of the catastrophic days that followed, it is quite literally my last fond memory of my dad face to face.”


In 2016, astronaut Shane Kimbrough, whose daughter now attends Clear Lake, asked the school if there was anything it would like brought into space. The school told him to take the soccer ball which was now on display as a tribute to Onizuka.

Kimbrough took the ball on NASA’s 2016 Expedition 50 mission to the International Space station. While in orbit, Kimbrough jettisoned the ball into space, finally completing the journey it began 30 years ago.


“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,” Janelle Onizuka told ABC News. “I am grateful for the memories, and future of this one special item that touched my dad and me, along with so many others.”