Orlando Pride launch new kit into space

Julia Poe, Orlando Sentinel
·5 min read

The Orlando Pride primed fans for the impending 2021 NWSL season with a kit launch — a literal one, sending the team’s ‘Ad Astra’ primary kit into space Tuesday.

The space-themed kit pays tribute to Central Florida’s Space Coast and the region’s rich history in the space industry.

The club coordinated a space launch with Sent Into Space, a British-based company that took the 2021 kit and a game ball into space. The Pride plan to use that game ball to kick off the team’s regular season home opener in May.

To accomplish the launch, the company attached the jersey and ball to a high-altitude balloon. After reaching the edge of space — roughly 50 miles above sea level — for long enough to capture images, the balloon popped and allowed the vessel to free fall back to earth.

To Orlando Pride executive vice president Amanda Duffy, the launch reflects the dedication of the club and kit sponsor Orlando Health to support the women’s game.

“Ultimately I’m just proud of our investment,” Duffy said. “It’s not just resources and finances towards this, it’s our investment of time that has allowed us to arrive at this point to have such a special kit with special meaning. ... When you’re wearing it, it represents more than just the club.”

The Pride are also using the kit to highlight Black women whose accomplishments in the aerospace industry have often been overshadowed. The team’s stars wore the names of four of these women for a photoshoot at the Kennedy Space Center last week.

U.S. women’s national team star Alex Morgan wore the name of Nichelle Nichols, a Black woman who broke barriers on screen for her role as Uhura in ‘Star Trek’. After portraying one of the first major Black characters on television, Nichols dedicated her life for advocacy through NASA and led efforts to recruit people of color and women to the space program.

Pride captain Ashlyn Harris dedicated her jersey to Katherine Johnson, the mathematician whose orbital calculations were a cornerstone to the launch of the first U.S. manned space flights, including the trajectory for Alan Shepard’s flight in 1961 as the first American in space.

Fellow captain Ali Krieger wore the name of Mary Jackson, the first Black woman to become an engineer for NASA and a leader in improving aerodynamics for U.S. aircrafts. Jackson worked on flight experiments while petitioning the city of Hampton, Virginia to allow her to attend engineering classes in 1953.

Brazilian star Marta used her kit to honor Dorothy Vaughan, the mathematician who oversaw Johnson and Jackson. Vaughan led the NASA programming division, preparing the entire organization for the introduction of machine computers.

All three women were showcased in the 2016 film ‘Hidden Figures’, which depicted their dedication and contribution to the expansion of space travel in the U.S.

“As it was coming together, there were certain design elements that we wanted to be representative of certain figures and women and women of color that were the inspiration to certain design elements,” Duffy said. “[They] were central to the progress that we’ve seen. They allowed more opportunities to come and a conversation that is ongoing and speaks back to the timelessness of what this jersey and narrative represents.”

Details of the kit design are also designated as symbols for the aerospace industry and the contributions of Black women to the space program.

The jersey sports a patch in the shape of the Project Mercury vessel and the outline of Johnson’s trajectory calculations. The patch also includes the jersey theme — “Ad Astra” — which means “to the stars.” The upper half of the kit includes outlines of three stars, which symbolize the ‘Hidden Figures’ women.

Duffy said the club plans to continue celebrating and supporting women and communities of color throughout the season.

This is also the Pride’s sixth year in partnership with kit sponsor Orlando Health, which has supported the Orlando City organization since its inception.

Orlando Health director of sports partnerships Jackie Hayter said the organization hopes to continue empowering the growth of women’s soccer through its partnership with the Orlando Pride.

“I think it’s incredible to see the NWSL continue to grow in the number of teams, the recruitment of better and better athletes from around the world,” Hayter said. “I just think we have a great opportunity to continue to grow what we’re doing in this community to support these women and to support the Orlando Pride.”

Merchandise sales are a major focus for the Pride. The club has sold kits to 48 U.S. states and nearly 50 countries. Despite playing only four matches in 2020, the team saw a rise in online merchandise sales last year amid the pandemic.

The team will host fans for the first time since 2019 — albeit with limited attendance — April 14 in the Pride’s second game of the Challenge Cup against Sky Blue FC.

“This community is something that we want to be a central representation of, and part of my goals are to establish the Orlando Pride more prominently and with more relevance in this larger community,” Duffy said. “I think that when our players are back in front of fans and the supporters group again, it’s going to be felt, it’s going to be meaningful. ... The fans are going to play an important role in being a part of this team’s success this year.”

This article first appeared on OrlandoSentinel.com. Email Julia Poe at jpoe@orlandosentinel.com.