A film crew working on a series about the Bermuda Triangle has made an unexpected discovery off the coast of Florida: a 20-foot segment of the Space Shuttle Challenger, which exploded in flight in one of NASA’s major tragedies.
The Challenger disaster occurred on January 28, 1986, about 73 seconds after the spacecraft launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida. 46,000 feet above the ground, the Shuttle exploded due to an escape of hot gas within a booster rocket, caused by a weakening of the spacecraft’s rubber O-rings.
All seven crew members were killed in the disaster, including Christa McAuliffe, who was set to become the first teacher in space. Debris from the explosion rained down onto the Atlantic Ocean.
Now, 36 years later, a large section of the Challenger has been found on the seafloor. In video and imagery released by The History Channel, divers and fish are seen floating over the Shuttle segment. The segment is made up of reddish tiles, some with white tiling elements on top. The white elements are pockmarked.
At one point in the video, a diver wiggles one tile and is stopped by another diver.
The crew found the wreckage in March while searching for a rescue plane that vanished in December 1945, which was itself looking for torpedo bombers that disappeared earlier in the day. According to a The History Channel release, a second dive was made in May to further investigate the debris. In August, NASA confirmed the material was from Challenger.
The wreckage is a 20-foot segment made up of 8-inch square tiles. A NASA release did not specify which component of the Challenger spacecraft was found, though some of the Shuttle’s insulation tiles were 8 inches long on each side.
A memorial for the crews of Challenger and Columbia, the Space Shuttle that was destroyed on re-entry to Earth in 2003, is located at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral.
“Challenger and her crew live on in the hearts and memories of both NASA and the nation,” said Kennedy Space Center Director Janet Petro in the NASA release. “Today, as we turn our sights again toward the Moon and Mars, we see that the same love of exploration that drove the Challenger crew is still inspiring the astronauts of today’s Artemis Generation, calling them to build on the legacy of knowledge and discovery for the benefit of all humanity.”
Space Shuttle artifacts are U.S. government property by law. NASA has not announced any plans regarding the newly discovered wreckage, but it is considering further actions, the release said.
The segment may need protection. Shipwrecks are frequently salvaged and looted by memento-seekers and people seeking rare materials. The History Channel did not state exactly where the wreckage was found, but if people know Challenger debris is out there, some may try to find it.