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Thibaut Courtois’s penalty ball returns to earth

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A warm welcome back to the UK’s newest astronaut.

Chelsea v Arsenal - The FA Community Shield Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images

NASA confirmed this morning that Chelsea keeper Thibaut Courtois’s penalty ball has returned to earth and has been recovered.

The ball left Wembley Stadium in an unplanned launch on August 6 during Chelsea’s Community Shield penalty shootout with Arsenal, traveled up through the atmosphere until its solid hydrogen boosters ran out of fuel, and then settled into a low earth orbit. After circling the globe a few dozen times, its orbit became unstable, and it reentered the atmosphere and splashed down in the Pacific Ocean, where it was recovered by the US Coast Guard.

Although it still needs to go through quarantine and a few medical checks, as per NASA astronaut protocol, the ball is reportedly unharmed and intact, except for a few char marks picked up during reentry. “The soccer ball is doing well,” a NASA spokeswoman said. “These checks are purely precautionary, and we expect to have the ball back at home with its club very soon.”

Both Chelsea and Arsenal fans watching the match were impressed by the speed with which the ball left the planet. “I’d never seen a rocket launch before that match,” one anonymous Gooner said. “This has definitely made me more interested in spaceflight.” Launch spectators are typically kept a few miles farther away from the spacecraft than the Community Shield attendees were, but thanks to the payload’s small size, no one was injured during the launch.

NASA has been trying to contact Courtois in order to return his spacefaring ball to him, but the agency has yet to reach him.