Remains of space shuttle Challenger discovered underwater
The explorers dragged themselves across the Atlantic Ocean searching for World War II artifacts lost at sea, but stumbled upon something else – a 20-foot-long piece of debris from the space shuttle Challenger, which was destroyed shortly after liftoff in 1986.
The History Channel and NASA revealed Thursday that a segment of the Challenger was discovered off the east coast of Florida during the filming of a new series titled “Bermuda Triangle: Into Cursed Waters.” The series is set to premiere this month on the History Channel.
Challenger disintegrated after launching on January 28, 1986, killing all seven crew members, including the teacher, it was to become the first civilian in space. TV viewers, especially students in schools across the US, watched the live broadcast of the explosion that morning in horror.
“NASA is currently considering what additional actions it can take regarding the artifact to properly honor the legacy of Challenger’s fallen astronauts and the families who loved them,” the space agency said in a press release.
Mike Barnett, the underwater explorer who led the crew that recovered the shuttle artifact remembers watching the tragedy on TV in his high school classroom. He called it “sobering” when he realized his team had found a piece of the spacecraft – the first debris to be discovered since pieces of the shuttle washed ashore in 1996.
“I can almost smell the smells that day,” Barnette told CNN in a phone interview Thursday, referring to the day Challenger exploded. “It was so etched in my brain.”
Barnette and his team of investigators set out in March to search suspected shipwreck sites in the Bermuda Triangle, a stretch of the North Atlantic Ocean which is said to be the site of dozens of shipwrecks and plane crashes. The team also targeted one area outside the Triangle, not far from Florida’s Space Coast, where NASA has launched rockets since its inception.
Tim asked rescue plane from the Second World War which mysteriously disappeared in December 1945, but a more modern object partially covered by sand on the sea floor sparked interest and further investigation by a diving team, according to the History Channel.
During the first dive, Barnette said the storm made the water so murky it looked bathing in Guinness beer. “We had terrible visibility,” he said.
Divers made a second excursion in May and finally captured a clear image of the wreck. They brought evidence of their discovery to a retired NASA astronaut Bruce Melnicka longtime friend of Barnett’s, who immediately suggested that it might be detritus from the Challenger disaster.
The distinctive square tiles from the Challenger distracted the researchers, suggesting that they had uncovered a large part of the lower part of the orbiter. The underside was coated with thousands of silicon wafers that protected the shuttle from heat as it reentered Earth’s atmosphere from space.
The team submitted its findings to NASA in August, and the space agency recently confirmed the origin of the debris after reviewing footage from the dive, according to Media Release.
Challenger’s final mission was set to carry seven people into space — NASA astronauts Francis “Dick” Scobee, Michael Smith, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnik and Gregory Jarvis, as well as Christa McAuliffe, a teacher from New Hampshire which he was to become the first citizen space shuttle passenger as part of a new NASA program.
But 73 seconds after liftoff from its launch site in Florida, Challenger exploded, killing everyone on board. A NASA investigation later revealed that a rubber “O-ring” seal on one of Challenger’s solid rocket boosters failed because it was exposed to unusually cold temperatures while the space shuttle sat on the launch pad. This caused a leak of highly explosive gases, which eventually led to a catastrophic explosion.
“Although it has been nearly 37 years since seven daring and courageous explorers lost their lives aboard Challenger, this tragedy will forever be etched in our country’s collective memory. To millions around the world, including myself, January 28, 1986 still seems like yesterday,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement.
“This discovery gives us an opportunity to pause once again, to lift up the legacy of the seven pioneers we lost and to reflect on how this tragedy has 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.”
A six-part series “Bermuda Triangle: Into the Cursed Waters” premieres at 10:00 PM ET on November 22 on the History Channel.
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