A soccer ball that survived the 1986 explosion of the space shuttle Challenger was miraculously intact when divers found the ball in a black duffel bag floating in the Atlantic Ocean near the wreckage. The soccer ball would complete a long journey — including being lost for years and re-found by accident, and finally taking a trip to the international space station and then back to the high school where it came from.
The soccer ball was carried on that fateful mission by one of the seven seven astronauts who died in the explosion, Ellison Onizuka, who was the first Asian American in space. His daughter’s high school soccer team had given him the ball to take to space.
Max Brodsky, features producer for ESPN’s “E:60,” tells NPR’s Here & Now host Jeremy Hobson the message the team wrote on the ball is still readable today.
“It’s pretty unbelievable. And that message says, ‘Good luck shuttle crew,’ ” says Brodsky, who produced the short documentary BONDS OF EARTH about the ball and its story. “And even when you touch the ball now, little flakes kind of come off in your hands.”
The film is currently available for streaming via ESPN’s E:60 site (you have to be a subscriber). But, you can also listen to the filmmaker’s story about the making of the film and the backstory of this soccer ball, as well as the legacy of Onizuka, below. It’s truly riveting.