Soccer ball from Challenger explosion makes it to space 31 years later

Posted at 7:37 AM, Feb 08, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-08 07:37:29-05

A soccer ball that was taken aboard NASA's ill-fated Space Shuttle Challenger finally made it into space last week, 31 years after the shuttle exploded just 73 seconds after launch.

Ellison Onizuka, one of the seven astronauts that died in the accident, had stashed the item aboard the shuttle in 1986 before an engine-related issue caused the craft to explode, according to the NASA's website.

The ball was from his daughter's high school soccer team at Clear Lake High School in Houston, Texas.

"It was amazing the condition it was in after the explosion," Janelle Onizuka, the astronaut's daughter, told ABC News affiliate KTRK on Tuesday.

"By virtue of the catastrophic days that followed, it is quite literally my last fond memory of my dad face to face," she said.

NASA returned the soccer ball to the Onizuka family after it was discovered in the Atlantic Ocean among the shuttle's wreckage.

It was on display at Clear Lake High School until astronaut Shane Kimbrough -- whose daughter now attends the school -- asked if it would want anything sent up when he launched in October to the International Space Station, according to KTRK.



Last week, Kimbrough posted a picture of the ball, finally, in space.

"This ball was on Challenger that fateful day. Flown by Ellison Onizuka for his daughter, a soccer player," Kimbrough tweeted on Friday.

Janelle Onizuka said she is grateful that the special item made it into orbit.

"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 KTRK in a separate statement. "I am grateful for the memories and future of this one special item that touched my dad and me along with so many others."