Piece of Space Shuttle Challenger discovered off Florida coast 37 years later
A new discovery by a dive team from The History Channel marks the first new artifact from the Challenger wreckage found in 25 years. NASA has confirmed the piece was part of the orbiter and is deciding what actions to take to possibly recover the item from the seafloor.
A piece of the Space Shuttle Challenger has been recovered off the coast of Florida by a television crew.
Divers have uncovered a piece of the Space Shuttle Challenger off the coast of Florida more than 37 years after seven astronauts died during the post-launch explosion.
On Jan. 28, 1986, at 11:36 a.m. Eastern time, the Space Shuttle Challenger, launched on the mission known as STS-51L from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. A little over a minute into the flight, the Challenger suffered a major malfunction caused by the cold temperatures the morning of the launch.
All seven astronauts, Francis R. "Dick" Scobee, Michael J. Smith, Ronald E. McNair, Ellison S. Onizuka, Judith A. Resnik, Gregory B. Jarvis and teacher Christa McAuliffe, were killed in the explosion.
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The crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger walk out 28 January 1986 of NASA headquarters at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on the way to their 7 day mission. Leading the crew is Commander Francis Scobee, followed by Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair, Michael Smith, teacher Christa Mcauliffe and Ellison Onizuka. (Photo by Bob PEARSON / AFP)
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The space shuttle Challenger mission STS 51-L crew pose for a portrait while training at Kennedy Space Center's (KSC) Launch complex 39, Pad B in Florida this 09 January 1986 file photo. Left to right are Teacher in Space Payload Specialist Sharon Christa McAuliffe; Payload Specialist Gregory Jarvis; and Astronauts Judith A. Resnik, mission specialist; Francis R. (Dick) Scobee, mission commander; Ronald E. McNair, mission specialist; Mike J. Smith, pilot; and Ellison S. Onizuka, mission specialist. The shuttle exploded 73 seconds after lift-off on 28 January 1986, claimed the lives of the entire crew. AFP PHOTO / NASA (Photo by - / NASA / AFP)
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Space Shuttle Challenger peering out from heavy mist as it makes its way to the launchpad ahead of its launch on 28 January 1986, at Kennedy Space Center, Florida, USA, in January 1986. The launch of STS-51-L ended in tragedy when the shuttle disintegrated over the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of central Florida, resulting in the deaths of Michael J. Smith, Dick Scobee, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis, and Judith Resnik. (Photo by Space Frontiers/Getty Images)
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The sky is reflected in the Space Mirror Memorial 28 January, 2006, at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida after a service on the 20th anniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. Seven crew members, including high school teacher Christa McAuliffe, died when the Challenger exploded before the eyes of the world in the live broadcast of the January 28, 1986 liftoff. Saturday's commemoration comes nearly three years after the shuttle Columbia disintegrated upon returning to Earth, killing all seven astronauts on board. The names of Columbia's crew are at center; the names of the Challenger crew are to the left. The black granite monument bears the names of the 24 astronauts who have died since 1964. (Photo by ROBERT SULLIVAN / AFP)
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CONCORD, NH - JANUARY 28: Mandana Marsh holds her daughter, Molly, 4, as they watch television coverage hours after the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger inside their home in Concord, N.H., Jan. 28, 1986. When her mother explained what happened, Molly asked, "Can't Christa swim?" (Photo by Suzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
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File photo: A member of the US Army Honor Guard adjusts the wreaths at the memorial site crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger during rememberance ceremonies for the crews of Apollo 1, and the Space Shuttles Challenger and Columbia January 28, 2016, at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. (Photo credit: PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP via Getty Images)
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Sequential photos, released 15 February 1986, taken by NASA during the catastrophic flight of the Space shuttle Challenger, 28 January 1986, show a firey plume excaping from the right solid rocket booster and growing toward an explosion. 75 seconds after its launch, the Space shuttle Challenger blew up killing all seven crew. (Photo by - / NASA / AFP/Getty Images)
Although dive teams and crew scoured the ocean and land, searching for debris from the launch vehicle to complete a thorough investigation of the failure, not all of the orbiter was recovered.
A discovery by a dive team from The History Channel marks the first new artifact from the wreckage found in 25 years.
In March 2022, a dive team was searching the ocean floor for a World War II aircraft wreck when they stumbled upon a 20-foot-long piece of the orbiter with some of the space shuttles' recognizable white tiles. After a second dive in May, the team presented its findings to NASA Astronaut Bruce Melnick, who suspected it was part of the Challenger.
Underwater explorer and marine biologist Mike Barnette and wreck diver Jimmy Gadomski exploring a 20-foot segment of the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger, the team discovered in the waters off the coast of Florida during the filming of The HISTORY® Channel’s new series "The Bermuda Triangle: Into Cursed Waters" premiering Tuesday, November 22 at 10 p.m. ET. (Image credit: The HISTORY Channel)
Underwater explorer Mike Bernette led the team that made the discovery.
"The significance of this large section of Challenger's structure was readily apparent," Barnette said. "We recognized the necessity of bringing this find to the immediate attention of NASA."
The dive site was outside the area known as the Bermuda Triangle off Florida's Space Coast.
NASA officials reviewed images of the piece found and confirmed it was a part of Challenger.
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said the discovery is a reminder of the sacrifices in the name of space exploration.
"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," Nelson 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."
By law, all space shuttle artifacts are the property of the U.S. government.
The Challenger discovery will be documented in The History Channel series "The Bermuda Triangle: Into Curse Waters," which premiers on Nov. 22.