Wreckage from the Space Shuttle Challenger was found off the Florida coast by an underwater History Channel TV crew, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration confirmed Thursday.
The Challenger debris was uncovered as the crew of History Channel’s upcoming series “The Bermuda Triangle: Into Cursed Waters” was searching for a rescue aircraft that went missing in 1945.
Last March, the crew found a modern-looking structure, replete with eight-inch square tiles, covered in sand on the ocean floor. Consultation with an expert and a second dive led the crew to present the piece in May to retired astronaut Bruce Melnick, who suspected it was a part of Challenger.
“The significance of this large section of Challenger’s structure was readily apparent. We recognized the necessity of bringing this find to the immediate attention of NASA,” said underwater explorer Mike Barnette, who led the team that made the discovery, in an A+E Networks release.
In August, NASA program manager Mike Ciannilli confirmed to the crew that what it had found was, in fact, a piece of Challenger, which exploded 73 seconds after liftoff on Jan. 28, 1986. All seven crew members died in the disaster.
“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. … 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,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in an agency release Thursday.
The discovery was the first piece of wreckage found from Challenger in 25 years.
“While the remarkable discovery of wreckage from Challenger was not part of our diving team’s initial mission exploring the Bermuda Triangle, the find’s historical significance cannot be understated,” said Eli Lehrer, executive vice president and head of programming at the History Channel, in an A+E Networks release.
The History Channel crew was initially searching for a rescue plane that went missing on Dec. 5, 1945, while itself looking for five torpedo bombers that had disappeared the same day. “The Bermuda Triangle: Into Cursed Waters” is a six-part series and will premiere at 10 p.m. ET on Nov. 22.
The found Challenger wreckage is, by law, the property of NASA and the American government.
• Brad Matthews can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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