Documentary Team Finds Challenger Wreckage Underwater

A 20-foot-long piece of wreckage from the Space Shuttle Challenger, which was destroyed soon after launch in 1986, was discovered by explorers trudging through the Atlantic Ocean in quest of missing World War II treasures.

Challenger debris was found Thursday off the coast of Florida while shooting the History Channel documentary “The Bermuda Triangle: Into Cursed Waters.” The first episode of the series will air on the History Channel this month.

Documentary Team Finds Challenger Wreckage Underwater
Documentary Team Finds Challenger Wreckage Underwater

On January 28, 1986, shortly after liftoff, the space shuttle Challenger disintegrated, killing all seven crew members, including a teacher who was aiming to become the first civilian in space. People all across the world, but notably children in classrooms throughout the United States, saw the explosion unfold live on television that morning.

“NASA is presently reviewing what further measures it may take respecting the item that would appropriately commemorate the memory of the dead astronauts of the Challenger and the families who loved them,” the space agency stated in a press statement.

Former crew leader and undersea explorer Mike Barnette was a high school student when the shuttle disaster happened. Sobering, he said, to learn that his crew had located a piece of the spaceship, the first such piece to be found since 1996, when fragments of the shuttle came ashore.

Barnette said in a Thursday phone interview with CNN, “I can practically smell the scents of that day,” referring to the day the Challenger exploded. As the saying goes, “It was etched indelibly into my mind.”

In March, Barnette and his team of investigators set out to look for wreckage in the Bermuda Triangle, an area of the northern Atlantic Ocean that has been linked to several shipwrecks and aircraft disasters. Additionally, the group targeted a region outside of the triangle, located off the Space Coast of Florida, from where the space agency had launched rockets for decades.

According to the History Channel, the dive crew was initially hunting for a missing rescue aircraft from World War II that was last seen in December 1945. However, their attention was piqued when they discovered a contemporary device half buried in the sand on the bottom.

Barnette said the water was as dark as Guinness beer on the first dive due to a storm. He lamented, “We had awful visibility.”

In May, the divers returned for another expedition during which they filmed the wreckage more clearly. They showed Barnette’s longtime friend and former NASA astronaut Bruce Melnick the proof of their find, and Melnick instantly speculated that it may be debris from the Challenger explosion.

Tiles with the Challenger’s signature square shape alerted the explorers, signaling they had unearthed a sizable section of the orbiter’s underbelly. Thousands of silicon tiles covered the shuttle’s underside, keeping it cool as it descended through Earth’s atmosphere after a space mission.

In August, the crew handed over their results to NASA, and the space agency only just validated the debris’ origins after studying diving video, as reported in a press release.

Seven persons, including NASA astronauts Francis “Dick” Scobee, Michael Smith, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnik, and Gregory Jarvis, and New Hampshire schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe, were scheduled to go aboard the last Challenger mission.

The Challenger detonated 73 seconds into its flight from Florida. All on board perished. The rubber “O-ring” seal on one of the solid rocket boosters on the Challenger had broken due to exposure to exceptionally low temperatures while the space shuttle was sitting on the launchpad, as was subsequently determined by a NASA inquiry. It led to the release of extremely explosive gases, which in turn produced the devastating explosion.

Although almost 37 years have passed since the loss of the seven courageous explorers onboard the Challenger, the tragedy will be etched in the minds of Americans. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson stated in a statement, “January 28, 1986, still seems like yesterday for millions across the world, myself included.”

This new information provides a moment of reflection on the impact the loss of our seven pioneers had on our community. In a day when NASA missions are venturing farther into space than ever before, it is imperative that we never lose sight of our most fundamental value: the protection of our astronauts and the universe at large.

History Channel’s six-part series “The Bermuda Triangle: Into Cursed Waters” begins on November 22 at 10 p.m. ET.


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