The soccer ball that survived the Challenger explosion returns to the high school it came from

A soccer ball that survived the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion in 1986 took a long trip – including a trip to the International Space Station – back to the high school it came from.

One of the seven astronauts who died in the explosion was Ellison Onizuka, the first Asian American in space. Her daughter’s high school football team had given her the ball to undertake the mission.

Max Brodsky (@max_brodsky), the producer of ESPN’s “E: 60” tells Here NowJeremy Hobson’s message the team wrote on the ball is still readable today.

“It’s pretty amazing. And that post says, ‘Good luck to the shuttle crew,'” said Brodsky, who produced “Bonds of Earth,” a new ESPN documentary about the balloon and its history. “And even when you touch the ball now, little flakes are breaking out in your hands.”

Interview highlights

On how the bullet survived the blast intact

“That’s a great question, and I think people who remember that day and remember watching it are asking themselves, and the truth is, I don’t have a scientific or logical explanation for you. This is something they found floating in a black duffel bag over the Atlantic Ocean, as part of the Coast Guard search and rescue operation to examine the entire wreckage. Ellison’s personal flight kit. And they actually got a few other items that he had taken with them there. One was a lotus flower, and the other was actually a soccer ball. the University of Colorado, where he attended school. “

“Good Luck Shuttle Crew”, still readable since it was written in 1986, a few days before the Challenger tragedy. (Courtesy of Clear Lake High School via ESPN)

On the story behind the ball and the importance of football to Onizuka’s family

“Ellison’s two daughters, Janelle and Darien, have played football their entire lives. Ellison was very active in the football program. I think he was a founding member of the women’s football team’s recall club. And it is the tradition in this field that when an astronaut goes to space, he often asks organizations that are important in his life if they have any particular memories that they want them to conjure up.

Astronaut and Air Force Officer Ellison Onizuka poses in a 1982 photo. (AP Photo)
Astronaut and Air Force Officer Ellison Onizuka poses in a 1982 photo. (AP Photo)

“So he went to his daughters’ school, Clear Lake High School, which is about a mile down the road from the Johnson Space Center in Houston – and it really is the high school where the astronaut kids go and the family of all the people who work at NASA, so it’s really a NASA high school. So he came to high school and said, “Is there anything you want me to bring? And his daughter suggested a football signed by his team. I know he picked it up a few days before leaving for the Challenger launch. And that’s one of the last memories Janelle has of her father, is he coming to sign him on the pitch. “

On finding the ball years later on top of a filing cabinet

“As in many schools, there is a lot of construction going on, there is a lot of turnover with the administration and with the people who work there, and I think that over time it got lost in the reshuffle. They have a lot of memories of NASA Then again it’s kind of a NASA high school right next to the Johnson Space Center over there. And so it kind of got lost in the reshuffle with a lot of those memories until their football coach found him on top of a filing cabinet in 2000. He actually had a very interesting connection to the ball itself.

“His name is Jered Shriver, and his father, Loren Shriver, was an astronaut. And Lornen Shriver flew with Ellison Onizuka on Ellison’s first mission in 1985, about a year before the Challenger. So the two families became very relatives. Jered was friends with Ellison’s daughters, and his sister was actually part of the football team that signed the ball. So when he found it on that binder, he said he was watching the ball. ‘handwriting on it, that he couldn’t really figure it out, and then he sees his sister’s signature and it all kind of clicked on what that bullet was, and he recognized the huge meaning behind it and said could keep him from getting lost forever. “

The soccer ball in his current home, prominently in the halls of Clear Lake High School.  (Courtesy E: 60 / ESPN)
The soccer ball in his current home, prominently in the halls of Clear Lake High School. (Courtesy E: 60 / ESPN)

On where the ball is displayed now

“The balloon is now prominently displayed just inside the main entrance to Clear Lake High School. It sits in a new large glass case with a photo of the Challenger’s flight crew. has a little plaque that says the original date he was supposed to be going to space, when he did, and then when he was dedicated to school last fall. I think the students are much more aware and that they display very proudly in the school. “



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