It has been 36 years since the Space Shuttle Challenger disintegrated shortly after lifting off from Cape Canaveral on January 28, 1986. The disaster resulted in the deaths of all seven astronauts aboard the shuttle, including Christa McAuliffe, a school teacher selected for the mission through NASA’s Teacher in Space project. Now, a significant piece of Challenger has been found on the floor of the Atlantic ocean off the Florida coast.
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center announced the discovery earlier today. The fragment of the shuttle is believed to be from the underside of the fuselage’s exterior, identified by its visible square thermal tiles. The newly-discovered section is estimated to be at least 15 feet by 15 feet. Divers for a Bermuda Triangle TV documentary discovered the piece back in March while looking for the wreckage of a World War II plane.
Michael Ciannilli, a NASA manager, confirmed the section’s authenticity from the divers’ footage. Ciannilli told the Associated Press, “Of course, the emotions come back, right? My heart skipped a beat, I must say, and it brought me right back to 1986… and what we all went through as a nation.” The newly discovered section still remains on the ocean floor as NASA decides what to do next. The space agency has notified the families of all seven crew members aboard the doomed craft.
About 47 percent of the Challenger launch vehicle — the shuttle, solid fuel boosters and external fuel tank — was recovered after the explosion. With a few exceptions, 118 tons of debris from Challenger was buried in abandoned missile silos at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. This section of the fuselage is the first piece of Challenger debris to be found since two pieces from the left wing washed ashore in 1996.