– A soccer ball bearing both the name of a historic satellite and launched into Earth orbit was used to kick off the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia on Thursday, June 14.
The Adidas Telstar 18 soccer ball (or if you prefer, soccer) first spent time aboard the International Space Station before arriving at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow for the opener between Russia and the ‘Saudi Arabia.
World Cup Ambassador Victoria Lopyreva carried the ball into space on the pitch and presented it to famous Brazilian striker Ronaldo for the first kick. He rigged his approach, however, leaving an opening for an unidentified young boy to pass the ball to Zabivaka, the official wolf mascot of this year’s international competition.
The World Cup ceremony began on Thursday with a video showing a similar balloon floating outside the space station. The scene was simulated, but in a coincidence of timing, it played out as two NASA astronauts performed a spacewalk outside the real orbiting complex.
“We are following the 2018 FIFA World Cup from the International Space Station! Russian cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev wrote, using Twitter from the orbital outpost after his country’s team were already close to winning the first match.
Despite being some 400 kilometers above the planet, Artemyev took part in Thursday’s ceremony, launching into space with the ball from the opening match on March 21. He also piloted the first of two Zabivaka plush dolls used as “flashing zero-gs” on the way to the station.
Artemyev and his fellow Roscosmos cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov used the ball (one of at least two transported to the space station) to demonstrate their zero-g football skills, filming themselves as otherwise impossible flips and kicks on Earth.
The space station’s Expedition 55 crew each autographed the balloon and it was stamped with ink markers found only aboard the outpost, certifying that it flew in orbit.
Shkaplerov then returned the well-traveled bullet to Earth, landing with it aboard the Soyuz MS-07 spacecraft in the steppe of Kazakhstan on June 3. In total, the bullet circled the planet for 74 days, traveling over 31 million miles (50 million kilometers).
On Thursday, Shkaplerov was in the stands at Luzhniki Stadium to watch the ball be used and cheer on his country’s team.
“We support our people! Shkaplerov tweeted (translated from Russian).
Before it even left Earth, the Adidas Telstar 18 soccer ball had a spatial heritage.
The official match ball for the 2018 FIFA World Cup has been named “Telstar 18” to honor the first Adidas World Cup ball which dates back to 1970. That year marked the first time that the The competition was being broadcast live around the world and Adidas was looking for a ball that would stand out on both black and white and color TV screens.
The company’s response was to design the Telstar, the now iconic ball with 12 black pentagonal panels and 20 white hexagonal panels.
The Telstar soccer ball was named after the first Telstar communications satellite, which enabled the first live transatlantic television stream after being launched in July 1962 by NASA and AT&T.
Telstar 1, which is now inactive but still in Earth orbit, had a spherical white body mounted with dark colored solar panels, so it looked like the soccer ball that came to use its name.
The World Cup’s ties to space, however, go beyond its official match ball.
In 2014, Roscosmos cosmonauts Maksim Surayev, Aleksandr Samokutyayev and Yelena Serova helped reveal the official logo for the 2018 competition. The logo uses space as a theme to highlight Russia’s pioneering achievements.
“To see the FIFA World Cup in our country was a dream for all of us,” Serova said aboard the International Space Station at the time.
Russia’s 2018 World Cup ambassadors, chosen to represent the nation at the month-long sporting event, include former cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev, a six space flight veteran who has spent more than 800 days in the space
And aboard the space station, Artemyev and his teammates plan to mark the final World Cup game by hosting their own orbital match. The crew, which includes two Russians and three Americans, will play a game of football, being careful not to break anything inside the one-of-a-kind laboratory. The match is scheduled to take place on July 15, the last day of the 2018 FIFA World Cup.