NASA confirms underwater debris is from the 1986 Challenger explosion


A documentary crew searching for World War II-era aircraft wreckage recently discovered historical artifacts of a more modern variety. After reviewing the footage, NASA has confirmed that underwater wreckage filmed off the Florida coast is from the disastrous final flight of the space shuttle Challenger, in which seven people were killed.

Divers working on the documentary noticed “a large human-made object covered partially by sand on the seafloor.” It had a modern construction, including eight-inch square tiles, commonly used in shuttles’ thermal protection systems. That tipped off the crew members that the wreckage may be NASA-related, and they contacted the space agency, which looked over the footage and confirmed its origin. NASA says it is considering what additional actions to take regarding the debris.

The tragic Challenger flight took off on January 28th, 1986, breaking apart only 73 seconds into its journey. All six crew members and school teacher Christa McAuliffe were killed in the explosion or resulting impact. McAuliffe was selected from over 11,000 applicants for the position of NASA’s Teacher in Space. The launch was broadcast live on national television, and it stands as a tragedy so infamous that many people remember exactly where they were when it happened.

In addition to McAuliffe, the mission took the lives of commander Francis R. “Dick” Scobee; pilot Michael J. Smith; specialists Ronald E. McNair, Ellison S. Onizuka, and Judith A. Resnik; and payload specialist Gregory B. Jarvis. In 2018, ISS astronauts completed the science lessons McAuliffe had planned for the trip.

An investigation into the explosion revealed that O-ring seals in the solid rocket booster segment joints had stiffened from unexpectedly cold temperatures the night before. Despite concerns from O-ring manufacturer Morton Thiokol’s engineers, the company’s management submitted a recommendation to launch. The tragedy ultimately grounded the space shuttle program for 32 months and led to the creation of the agency’s Office of Safety, Reliability and Quality Assurance.

In Search of The Bermuda Triangle, the documentary revealing the wreckage, is set to air on Tuesday, November 22nd, on The History Channel.

NASA administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement on Thursday: “While it has been nearly 37 years since seven daring and brave explorers lost their lives aboard Challenger, this tragedy will forever be seared in the collective memory of our country. For millions around the globe, myself included, January 28th, 1986, still feels like yesterday. This discovery 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.”

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