History Channel Documentary Team Finds Large Section of Space Shuttle Challenger on the Ocean Floor

by Taylor Cunningham
(Photo by: HUM Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

NASA confirmed that a History Channel documentary team found a piece of the space shuttle Challenger at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.

The crew made the discovery while it was combing the ocean floor for a World War II-era plane wreck, according to a press release. Divers spotted the “large humanmade object,” in the sand. And because it was close to the Florida Space Coast and had a “modern construction and presence of 8-inch square tiles,” the team immediately thought to contact NASA.

The History Channel tweeted a video of the object on Nov 10. As the caption notes, the discovery is the first piece of wreckage from the Space Shuttle Challenger in over 25 years.

The Challenger space shuttle launched from Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Jan 29, 1986. The spacecraft was carrying seven people, including mission commander Francis R. “Dick” Scobee; pilot Michael J Smith; mission specialists Ronald E. McNair, Ellison S. Onizuka and Judith A. Resnik; and payload specialist Gregory B. Jarvis.

High school teacher Christa McAuliffe was all aboard through NASA’s Teacher in Space Program. After training for months, she was meant to be the first civilian in space.

Just 73 seconds after takeoff, the shuttle exploded as live broadcasts aired for the entire county. All seven passengers died.

NASA Administrator Remember the Seven Lives Lost in the Space Shuttle Challenger Explosion

Specialists later determined that the O-ring seal on the Challenger’s solid rocket booster had become brittle due to unseasonably cold temperatures. Because of that, it failed and caused a fire in the booster, which damaged the external fuel tank and caused the explosion.

All space shuttle artifacts are property of the United States government by law, so the History Channel crew handed their discovery to NASA. In the release, the agency wrote that it is deciding how it can use the object to “honor the legacy of Challenger’s fallen astronauts and the families who loved them.”

NASA administrator Bill Nelson also added that the discovery gives the public “an opportunity to pause once again” to remember those who were lost that day. 

“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,” he said. “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.”