Video Shows Divers Accidentally Discovering Part of Challenger Space Shuttle Wreckage Near Bermuda Triangle
"A mix of emotions … To literally touch history"
Divers have discovered part of the Challenger space shuttle on the ocean floor, nearly 37 years after it exploded off the coast of Florida. It was the first discovery of debris from Challenger in a quarter-century, and it was not intentional. The divers who made the discovery were exploring the Bermuda Triangle, looking for a search-and-rescue vehicle that had been missing since 1945, the New York Times reported last week. They found the debris last February, but murky water made identification impossible; when they returned in May, they were able to determine it was a piece of the shuttle.
The Challenger disaster was one of the worst in the history of the U.S. space program, killing the entire crew of seven, including the first "teacher in space," to the horror of millions who were watching the launch live on TV. The accident halted the shuttle program for years. Read on to see the video of the discovery and what NASA had to say about it—and to boost your brain, don't miss these mind-blowing The 10 Most "OMG" Science Discoveries of 2022
One of the divers, 51-year-old Mike Barnette, told the Times what it was like to make the discovery. "The tragedy of that, and remembering watching it as a kid — it's a mix of emotions to literally, literally, touch history," he said. "We weren't expecting it because we were under the assumption that all these pieces were recovered by NASA for their investigation."
Video and photos of the debris indicate it's a flat object, larger than 15 feet by 15 feet, the Times reported. It's covered with dark squares that are weathered and covered in sand. Read on to find out what NASA said about the discovery. Keep reading to learn more and see the video.
In a statement on Thursday, NASA confirmed the discovery and said officials had reviewed the footage and determined that the debris was, in fact, from Challenger. The agency is still investigating which part of the shuttle it came from. Barnette told the Times that because the piece contains red pads, it appeared to be "a significant portion" of the orbiter's underside.
"For millions around the globe, myself included, Jan. 28, 1986, still feels like yesterday," Bill Nelson, the administrator of NASA, said in a statement. "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."
Challenger exploded 73 seconds after takeoff on Jan. 28, 1986. Seven crew members were killed, including the mission commander, Francis R. Scobee; the pilot, Cmdr. Michael J. Smith of the Navy; Lt. Col. Ellison Onizuka of the Air Force; Christa McAuliffe, a schoolteacher dubbed "the first teacher in space"; Gregory B. Jarvis; Dr. Ronald E. McNair, the country's second Black astronaut; and Dr. Judith A. Resnik, a biomedical engineer.
McAuliffe was slated to broadcast lessons from space, and many students and teachers across the country were watching the ill-fated launch. "I remember the day, I remember where I was," Barnette told the Times. "It's conjured all those emotions and what the whole nation went through." An investigation later found that freezing weatheer on the morning of launch compromised the seal of O-rings in one of the craft's rocket boosters, allowing hot gas to escape during launch.
Barnette did not disclose the exact location of the debris to prevent curiosity-seekers from disturbing it. But footage of the discovery will air on the History Channel, in the first episode of a documentary series about the Bermuda Triangle, on Nov. 22. Video posted to Twitter shows the divers examining their discovery. "Definitely an aircraft, I think we need to talk to NASA," one of the divers says.
NASA said it is considering what to do with the shuttle piece "that will properly honor the legacy of Challenger's fallen astronauts and the families who loved them." NASA estimates it has recovered about half of Challenger's debris, about 118 tons. Most of that is in storage at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, according to the AP.
Several fragments are on display in an exhibit at Kennedy Space Center. The newly discovered piece of the shuttle is one of the largest discovered since the explosion and the first since 1996, NASA program manager Michael Ciannilli told the Associated Press. "My heart skipped a beat, I must say, and it brought me right back to 1986 … and what we all went through as a nation," he said.