NASA confirms discovery of 1986 Challenger artifact


In this photo provided by the HISTORY® Channel, underwater explorer and marine biologist Mike Barnette and wreck diver Jimmy Gadomski explore a 20-foot segment of the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger that the team discovered in the waters off the coast of Florida during the filming of The HISTORY® Channel’s new series, “The Bermuda Triangle: Into Cursed Waters,” premiering Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022. (The HISTORY® Channel via AP)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (NewsNation) — The History Channel announced the discovery of a new artifact from the 1986 space shuttle Challenger disaster that was found during the filming of a new television series.

A large section of the destroyed space shuttle Challenger was discovered buried in sand at the bottom of the Atlantic more than three decades after the tragedy that killed a schoolteacher and six others.

“The historic and emotional discovery of this Challenger artifact by our incredible team reinforces The History Channel’s mission to preserve important sites and stories from our national heritage,” Eli Lehrer, executive vice president and head of programming for The History Channel, said in a press release. “Our goal for creating this series was to give a name to some of the thousands of wreck sites that call the Bermuda Triangle home and in turn share their stories, historical significance and even provide answers as to how they came to be there.”

NASA’s Kennedy Space Center confirmed the discovery on Thursday.

“Upon first hearing about it, it brings you right back to 1986,” said Michael Ciannilli, a NASA manager in charge of the remains of both lost shuttles, Challenger and Columbia.

In a NASA interview, he said it’s one of the biggest pieces of Challenger ever found in the decades since the accident.

Divers for a TV documentary crew first spotted the piece in March while seeking the wreckage of a World War II plane. NASA recently verified through a video that the piece was part of the shuttle that broke apart shortly after liftoff on Jan. 28, 1986. All seven on board were killed, including the first schoolteacher bound for space, Christa McAuliffe.

The remnant is more than 15 feet by 15 feet; it’s likely bigger because part of it is covered with sand. Because of the presence of square thermal tiles, it’s believed to be from the shuttle’s belly, officials said.

The fragment remains on the ocean floor just off the Florida coast near Cape Canaveral, as NASA determines the next step. It remains the property of the U.S. government.

Ciannilli said the families of all seven Challenger crew members have been notified.

A History Channel documentary detailing the discovery airs Nov. 22.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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