The Harlem Globetrotters will soon have a presence way above the globe.
One of the balls belongs to the Globetrotters. It was deflated to save room inside the shuttle, which is jammed with spacewalking gear and new telescope parts.
The other is a century-old ball on loan from the University of Chicago that was once handled by the man the Hubble Telescope is named after. Astronaut John Grunsfeld, an alumnus who will serve as the chief telescope repairman, is taking it up.
Edwin Hubble — the astronomer for whom the space telescope is named — tossed the ball around in a 1909 victory against Indiana University. The 6-foot-2 Hubble was a star forward on the University of Chicago's Big Ten champion teams of 1907-1908 and 1908-1909.
Because the old ball did not have an air valve, Grunsfeld cut it open and discovered it was filled with fiber packing material. The stuffing was removed so the ball would take up as little room as possible aboard space shuttle Atlantis.
The Globetrotters, coincidentally, have ties to Chicago. That's where they were founded in 1926.
After traveling to 120 countries and six continents, the Globetrotters wanted to expand into space.
"It is only fitting that the team that has seen more of the world than any other in history would have a presence beyond the stratosphere," Globetrotters chief executive officer Kurt Schneider said in a news release.
After Atlantis returns to Earth, the Globetrotters will put their red, white and blue space ball on display at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. The Hubble ball will go back to the University of Chicago.