In a symbolic gesture to remember those astronauts tragically killed in the Challenger explosion, a NASA astronaut released a soccer ball into space that was on the space shuttle and survived the explosion.
Currently on the International Space Station, NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough released a soccer ball into space and tweeted a pic to honor fellow astronaut Ellison Onizuka, who was one of seven astronauts killed when the Challenger space shuttle exploded on takeoff in 1986.
— Shane Kimbrough (@astro_kimbrough) February 3, 2017
The soccer ball was originally brought up into space from Onizuka’s daughter, who was on the Clear Lake High School girls soccer team. Signed by students on the boys and girls soccer teams at the time, Onizuka attempted to take the ball up into space but never got a chance to.
After the explosion, pieces of wreckage was found all over the land and shores of Florida. Among those things which were on board and found were the soccer ball, a football and an American flag that was all found intact, in the ocean.
To have the story come full circle, Kimbrough’s son is a student athlete at the same high school as Onizuka’s daughter in the 80’s.
Janelle Onizuka-Gillian made a statement about the tribute to her father.
“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.”
In many ways, this is a small but important gesture. While we sometimes take space travel for granted, especially now that commercial space travel is increasingly possible, space travel is still incredibly dangerous. By remembering those who previously died, these fellow astronauts honor those who have sacrificed their lives in expanding scientific possibilities and allow us to know more and more about our ever expanding universe.