The poignant end of a 31-year journey for a soccer ball, a family and a school came Nov. 3.
During halftime of the Clear Lake High School versus Clear Creek High School football game, a special reunion took place bringing people bound together by a soccer ball that was intended to fly on the Space Shuttle Challenger 51L mission in 1986. Challenger Astronaut Col. Ellison Onizuka had originally intended to take the ball on his journey into space on the ill-fated flight. His daughter, Janelle Onizuka, was a member of the Clear Lake High School soccer team in 1986. She and her teammates had signed the soccer ball before giving it to her father before the flight.
Soon after the Challenger accident, the soccer ball was discovered in the accident debris and eventually returned to Clear Lake High School. Expedition 50 Commander Col. Shane Kimbrough offered to take the soccer ball with him on his recent mission to the International Space Station, allowing the ball to complete its journey into space.
The Nov. 3 game was the backdrop for the very special return of the soccer ball to its original owners. After the Clear Lake High School marching band set the stage with their halftime performance, Space Odyssey, Col. Kimbrough presented the soccer ball to Janelle Onizuka.
“This ball has been on quite a journey,” Col. Kimbrough said. “Over 73 million miles, it’s orbited our planet 2,768 times, it’s been in every module of the International Space Station and now it’s my distinct honor to present it back to the Onizuka family.”
The Onizuka family in turn handed over the space artifact to Principal Karen Engle and Clear Lake High School, where the ball may continue to signify a journey of many miles and perseverance to all who view it.
Lorna Onizuka also presented a signed photograph of the Space Shuttle Challenger crew to Engle. “It is very special because there are not very many of them. But I would like very much for Clear Lake High School to have this,” Onizuka said.