Football fans and space fans are invited to come out to the November 3 Clear Lake High School vs. Clear Creek High School football game at CCISD Challenger Columbia Stadium to help welcome home a soccer ball that was recovered from the debris of the Space Shuttle Challenger 51-L accident in 1986.
But the soccer ball's journey didn't end there.
The soccer ball, whose home has been Clear Lake High School since its recovery after the 1986 accident, completed its voyage to space in April of this year on the International Space Station as a personal effect of Expedition 50 Commander Colonel Shane Kimbrough.
Challenger Astronaut Colonel 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 soccer player on the Clear Lake High School soccer team in 1986. The ball bears her signature and those of her teammates. Onizuka has four children, one of whom currently attends Clear Lake High School.
"The soccer ball has continued its mission my father embarked on so many years ago, inspiring so many through its history," said Onizuka.
When Colonel Kimbrough learned of the soccer ball's existence and incomplete journey, he offered to take the ball with him on his mission. Col. Kimbrough currently has a son at Clear Lake High School
Those who attend the halftime ceremony will learn of other special interconnections to this story, including that the sister of Clear Lake High School's current boys' soccer coach, Jered Shriver, was on the soccer team in 1986 - and her signature is on the ball. Shriver's father, Colonel Loren Shriver, was an astronaut and close friend of Colonel Onizuka and the two flew together on Space Shuttle mission 51-C in 1985. Colonel Shriver was assigned as the family liaison after the Challenger accident.
During the halftime ceremony, Colonel Kimbrough will be presenting the soccer ball back to Lorna Onizuka, the widow of Col. Onizuka, his daughter Janelle, and other members of the Onizuka family. Several members of the 1986 soccer team will also be a part of the special reunion.
The Falcon football players' helmets will bear a special space-themed decal in honor of the Challenger crew and the soccer ball's historic return home. The halftime program also includes a performance by the Clear Lake High School marching band, entitled Space Odyssey.