One minute and 23 seconds into its flight, the Challenger shuttle exploded in 1986. A technical failure involving the rocket boosters obliterated the shuttle and its seven passengers. Wreckage scattered across the Atlantic Ocean. The shock and devastation was insurmountable. But the past rarely stays buried, or in this case, underwater.
Divers have discovered a previously unknown piece of the Challenger while filming a documentary about the search for a World War II plane. Roughly 15 x15 feet, this one of the largest shuttle pieces found. Covered with thermal tiles, NASA believes it’s likely part of Challenger’s underside. The next step is to figure out what to do with it. NASA has notified the families of the bereaved, wanting to respectful of the crew’s legacy.
“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,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said of the discovery. “For millions around the globe, myself included, Jan. 28, 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.”
“We want to make sure whatever we do, we do the right thing for the legacy of the crew,” Michael Ciannilli, who confirmed the authenticity of the shuttle fragment, said. Ciannilli still feels the emotional impact of the crash. “Of course, the emotions come back, right?…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.”
Challenger’s pieces reside at Cape Canaveral’s decommissioned missile silos. One piece is on display at the Kennedy Space Center. NASA continues to develop space technologies. Recently, they successfully diverted an asteroid with their DART probe. But Challenger’s failure is a stark reminder for them to always quadruple check their systems.
A documentary detailing the discovery airs November 22nd on the History channel.