A documentary crew looking for a wartime aircraft off the coast of Florida stumbled on a much more recent artifact: a portion of the Space Shuttle Challenger. The spacecraft suffered a catastrophic malfunction just 73 seconds after lift-off on January 28, 1986, killing all seven crew members on board. Some parts of the shuttle, including the cabin, were recovered in the following months, but much of the vehicle was lost.
The cause of the disaster was established in a subsequent inquiry. The integrity of the O-ring seals in the solid rocket booster segment joints was compromised by freezing temperatures. Concerns were raised on the day by shuttle program employees, but managers cleared the mission for launch. Together with the tragedy of the Columbia Space Shuttle, which broke up on reentry in 2003, Challenger led to a complete change in approach at NASA on how to keep crews safe.
“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 in a statement.
“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 last Challenger mission 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, and payload specialist Gregory B. Jarvis. The crew also included teacher S. Christa McAuliffe, who was selected among 11,000 applicants to be the first teacher to fly to space as part of the NASA Teacher in Space Program.
“Challenger and her crew live on in the hearts and memories of both NASA and the nation,” said Kennedy Space Center Director Janet Petro. “Today, as we turn our sights again toward the Moon and Mars, we see that the same love of exploration that drove the Challenger crew is still inspiring the astronauts of today’s Artemis Generation, calling them to build on the legacy of knowledge and discovery for the benefit of all humanity.”
The discovery was part of a History Channel documentary called The Bermuda Triangle: Into Cursed Waters. The wreckage of the space shuttle was not found in the Bermuda Triangle. If you’re wondering why you don’t hear more about the triangle, check this out.