Ready for liftoff: Clear Creek ISD's NASA connections expose students to space exploration

This Clear Creek ISD soccer ball—signed by the daughter of Ellison Onizuka, one of the astronauts aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger—was recovered from the accident debris. In 2016, astronaut Shane Kimbrough took the ball with him aboard the International Space Station and presented it to members of the Onizuka family in late 2017. (Courtesy NASA)
This Clear Creek ISD soccer ball—signed by the daughter of Ellison Onizuka, one of the astronauts aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger—was recovered from the accident debris. In 2016, astronaut Shane Kimbrough took the ball with him aboard the International Space Station and presented it to members of the Onizuka family in late 2017. (Courtesy NASA)

This Clear Creek ISD soccer ball—signed by the daughter of Ellison Onizuka, one of the astronauts aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger—was recovered from the accident debris. In 2016, astronaut Shane Kimbrough took the ball with him aboard the International Space Station and presented it to members of the Onizuka family in late 2017. (Courtesy NASA)

Whenever he interacts with his fellow Houstonians on Earth, Clear Creek ISD parent Victor Glover is looking for his replacement in space.

More than 250 miles above the Bay Area, two more astronauts with CCISD connections are aboard the International Space Station.

Glover has been a NASA astronaut since 2013, and he returned from his most recent mission on May 2. It was one of the first missions of the Crew Dragon spacecraft—the second crewed flight for that vehicle, according to NASA.

His four daughters all attend or have attended CCISD schools. Glover’s oldest daughter started college this fall, and the other three are in eighth, 10th and 11th grades. The family spent the summer reconnecting and having fun after his absence, he said.

Glover and other astronauts often speak to CCISD students about their work, aiming to inspire and present new ideas.


“Inspiration is, ‘Wow, I didn’t realize that I could do that. I want to go to school and study that thing,’” he said. “It turns into decisions.”

The partnership goes both ways: CCISD is one of nearly 300 districts across the United States to participate in a project-based program called High School Students United with NASA to Create Hardware, known as HUNCH. Students create items such as storage lockers and tape dispensers that travel on the space station, supervised by NASA engineers.

“The words ‘the spirit of exploration’ are woven into the fabric of our district’s mission statement and everyday culture,” Superintendent Eric Williams said via email in October.

Clear Creek High School serves as the hub for HUNCH, acting as the last stop for final processing of the products made at various schools across the country.

“There is a continuum of education, mentorship and outreach here,” Glover said of the Bay Area. “I might come across [my replacement] on a university campus, in an elementary school or in a grocery store.”

Glover is not the only astronaut with CCISD connections. Mark Vande Hei is one of seven astronauts living and working aboard the space station, and his wife, Julie Vande Hei, is a counselor at Hyde Elementary School in CCISD.

Vande Hei’s current mission will last about 353 days. Upon his return to Earth in March, he will hold the record for the longest single spaceflight for an American.

Before departing on his current expedition, Bay Area astronaut Shane Kimbrough helped complete the 30-year journey of a piece of space history with CCISD connections. A soccer ball was intended to travel to space in 1986 aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger. Astronaut Col. Ellison Onizuka’s daughter, Janelle Onizuka, a soccer player for Clear Lake High School at the time, signed the ball along with her teammates.

The ball was recovered from the accident debris and given a home at CLHS until 2016, when Kimbrough took it with him aboard the space station during Expedition 50.

Upon his return, Kimbrough presented the ball to members of the Onizuka family in late 2017. His son attended Clear Lake High School at the time, per CCISD.
By Colleen Ferguson

Reporter, Bay Area

A native central New Yorker, Colleen worked as an editorial intern with the Cy-Fair and Lake Houston | Humble | Kingwood editions of Community Impact Newspaper before joining the Bay Area team in 2020. She covers public education, higher education, business and development news in southeast Houston. Colleen graduated in 2019 from Syracuse University and the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, where she worked for the university's independent student newspaper The Daily Orange. Her degrees are in journalism and Spanish language and culture. When not chasing a story, Colleen can be found petting cats and dogs, listening to podcasts, swimming or watching true crime documentaries.


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