Nearly 37 years after it exploded with seven astronauts in what was the world's biggest space tragedy, remains of the Challenger Shuttle mission have been discovered. The debris of the exploded space shuttle has been found at the bottom of the Atlantic in a chance discovery.
The debris was buried in the sand and is one of the biggest pieces of Challenger found in the decades since the accident. The tragedy killed a school teacher and six others moments after they launched on a mission to space.
The artifact was discovered by a TV documentary crew seeking the wreckage of a World War II-era aircraft. Divers noticed a large human-made object covered partially by sand on the seafloor. The proximity to the Florida Space Coast, along with the item's modern construction and presence of 8-inch square tiles, led the documentary team to contact NASA.
"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. For millions around the globe, myself included, Jan. 28, 1986, still feels like yesterday," Nasa Administrator Bill Nelson said.
Divers for a TV documentary first spotted the piece in March while looking for the wreckage of a World War II plane. Nasa verified through video a few months ago that the piece was part of the shuttle that broke apart shortly after liftoff on Jan. 28, 1986.
The piece is more than 15 feet by 15 feet (4.5 meters by 4.5 meters); it's likely bigger because part of it is covered with sand. Because there are square thermal tiles on the piece, it's believed to be from the shuttle's belly, Ciannilli said.
"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. 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," the Nasa administrator added.
The space shuttle was commanded by Francis R. "Dick" Scobee and piloted by Michael J. Smith. The other crew members on board were mission specialists Ronald E. McNair; Ellison S. Onizuka, and Judith A. Resnik; payload specialist Gregory B. Jarvis; and teacher S. Christa McAuliffe.
The mission was lost just 73 seconds after launching from Cape Canaveral. Launched on an exceptionally cold morning, Challenger was brought down by eroded O-ring seals in the right booster.
Roughly 118 tons (107 metric tons) of Challenger debris have been recovered since the accident. That represents about 47% of the entire vehicle, including parts of the two solid-fuel boosters and external fuel tank.
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