Huge Piece Of Space Shuttle Challenger Found At Sea

A large piece of the space shuttle Challenger has been found off the coast of Florida by a documentary crew.

By Vic Medina | Published

A large piece of the space shuttle Challenger has been found at sea by a History Channel film crew, more than 35 years after it tragically exploded after launch. The discovery was actually by accident, as the film crew was exploring the ocean floor for a documentary about the Bermuda Triangle. The 20-foot-wide piece of debris is the first major recovery of shuttle wreckage in more than 25 years, according to WTSP in Tampa Bay, Florida.

The piece of the Challenger shuttle was found not too far off of the Florida coast, but northwest of an area known as The Bermuda Triangle. It is not clear from what part of the shuttle the piece is from, but the presence of heat tiles leads NASA to believe it is from the shuttle’s belly. To date, only about 47% of Challenger an its external rocket boosters have been recovered, although the remains of the astronauts were found after the disaster.

The documentary crew was searching for the wreckage of a World War II-era aircraft when the section was originally found in March of this year, but remained unidentified. Divers had suspicions, however, because the metal looked modern, and asked a former astronaut to review the footage taken during a second dive in May. He believed it was Challenger debris, and NASA confirmed it in August.

On Jan. 28, 1986, Challenger exploded 73 seconds after takeoff, killing all seven astronauts on board. It was later determined that a faulty O-ring seal on one of the shuttle’s solid rocket boosters had failed in the cold temperatures of the January launch.

Space Shuttle Challenger
The Space Shuttle Challenger liftoff on January 28, 1986

The tragedy killed Challenger shuttle commander Francis R. “Dick” Scobee, pilot Michael J. Smith, mission specialists Ronald E. McNair, Ellison S. Onizuka, and Judith A. Resnik, payload specialist Gregory B. Jarvis and Christa McAuliffe, who was going to be the first teacher in space.

The discovery of the wreckage will be included in the History Channel special The Bermuda Triangle: Into Cursed Waters. It will air on November 22.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson commented on the discovery, saying that it “gives us an opportunity to pause once again, to uplift the legacies of the seven pioneers we lost, and to reflect on how this tragedy changed us. At NASA, the core value of safety is – and must forever remain – our top priority, especially as our missions explore more of the cosmos than ever before.”

NASA is still working to determine how to handle the debris, now referred to as an “artifact.” It remains on the ocean floor, and it is assumed it will be brought up to be analyzed, after the families of the lost astronauts have been consulted. “We want to make sure whatever we do, we do the right thing for the legacy of the crew,” Michael Ciannilli of NASA said.

The rest of the recovered Challenger wreckage remains stored in an abandoned missile silo at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, except for a small panel on display at the Kennedy Space Center’s visitor complex.

In 2003, NASA lost another space shuttle, Columbia, after debris hit the wing and caused a hole that eventually destroyed the orbiter. Seven astronauts died when it broke up upon reentry over north Texas.