It was just a practice ball
July 3, 2018 9:42 AM   Subscribe

Tonya Malinowski at writes about a survivor of the Challenger disaster. Many of us in the U.S. who were alive on January 28, 1986 remember where we were when the space shuttle Challenger blew up 73 seconds into its tenth flight. Fewer of us know of the soccer ball that survived that explosion, or the story of how it finally went into orbit. Until now.
posted by lhauser (13 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I was on the west coast of Ireland and I remember every awful detail.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 10:32 AM on July 3, 2018

Before reading that article, I would have said that Wilson was the most amazing soccer ball ever. But that picture of the ball floating in the ISS observatory is the purest thing that I've seen since I don't know when.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:41 AM on July 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

Oh wow, that is a great piece. And hoooooo boy I am crying over a soccer ball.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:56 AM on July 3, 2018

That's lovely. My Dad was a science teacher then, and was nominated to participate in this, but he had a heart condition and didn't make the final 114 who were able to go to training and the final selection process. I have always wondered about if he'd have made that next cut if he were healthy enough. He died of a heart attack that same March, and part of me believes he would have been happier to have been on the Challenger at the time than let another teacher be there.
posted by xingcat at 11:09 AM on July 3, 2018 [7 favorites]

I am 3 months retired from NASA at KSC. I remember watching that day. To this day I change the channel when the footage is shown.

It's pretty dusty in here right now.
posted by jeporter99 at 11:09 AM on July 3, 2018 [5 favorites]

That excellent article ends with an excerpt from a commencement speech Ellison Onizuka delivered to his high school in 1980, a portion of which appears in every U.S. passport:
Every generation has the obligation to free men's minds for a look at new worlds ... to look out from a higher plateau than the last generation. Your vision is not limited by what your eye can see, but what your mind can imagine. If you accept these past accomplishments as commonplace, then think of the new horizons that you can explore. ... Make your life count, and the world will be a better place because you tried.
posted by New Frontier at 11:18 AM on July 3, 2018 [7 favorites]

Very moving story, but what really grabbed my attention was who took the ball into space. Some years ago when my daughter was in first grade or so, it so happened that the headmaster of her school knew Col. Kimbrough from his days in high school and invited him for a visit. At the time my daughter was interested in becoming an astronaut and we chipped in to cover his expenses. My daughter was thrilled to be chosen to introduce him when he spoke to the lower grades, and getting to meet him was a great memory for her. By all accounts he is a really nice guy and it it not at all surprising that he would do this.
posted by TedW at 11:43 AM on July 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

I was working in the World Trade Center. There was no tv in the office so we got updates on the radio all day.
posted by lagomorphius at 12:15 PM on July 3, 2018

I wrote about my experience of that moment in a long-ago thread.
posted by octobersurprise at 12:39 PM on July 3, 2018

I found this quote moving: "If there was any speak left in these items, El would have wanted it to speak."

It reminded me of the photos published last year of personal belongings taken from migrants by CBP.

If there are any museum curators reading this thread, I would be interested in reading your thoughts on how museum collections balance the need for interpretation with the ability of objects to "speak for themselves" — which I suppose involves a fair amount of the viewer projecting their own preconceptions onto the object.

The story also reminded me of Barbara Morgan. She was Christa McAuliffe's backup on Challenger's final mission, and would have flown on the shuttle if McAuliffe had been sick. After the conclusion of the Teacher in Space program, she returned to teaching, while continuing to work with NASA as an educator. In 1998 she was selected by NASA as a regular astronaut candidate (as opposed to her previous role in the Teacher in Space Project), and trained as a mission specialist. She flew on an ISS assembly mission in 2007.
posted by compartment at 1:56 PM on July 3, 2018 [7 favorites]

Keep the soccer ball, send the US soccer ref from tonight's England-Colombia game into space.
posted by biffa at 2:44 PM on July 3, 2018

Mrs. McAuliffe was going to be our "guest science teacher - in space!" (On Earth, she taught social studies.) So we were watching on the dinky wheeled-in A.V. rig.

Kids were crying, screaming, vomiting.

Later on we sent sympathy cards to her children, and I still remember their names: Scott and Caroline. They're teachers now.
posted by Iris Gambol at 2:52 PM on July 3, 2018 [4 favorites]

That excellent article ends with an excerpt from a commencement speech Ellison Onizuka delivered to his high school in 1980, a portion of which appears in every U.S. passport...
I happen to have my passport right in front of me, and the quote appears on the very last page (p52 of my extra-big traveler's passport), across from the beautiful and eerie etching on the inside back cover. It is of the Earth rising from beyond the moon with Voyager (?) against a starless field of ink.

On page 44-45 appears this quote: "It is immigrants who brought to this land the skills of their hands and brains to make of it a beacon of opportunity and hope for all men." - Herbert H Lehman.
posted by Enkidude at 12:14 AM on July 4, 2018 [3 favorites]

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