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NASA has confirmed the discovery of a large piece of wreckage from the space shuttle Challenger which exploded shortly after liftoff in 1986.
The “artifact”, reported to be about 20-feet long, was discovered earlier this year by a TV documentary crew while looking for wreckage of a World War II-era aircraft off the east coast of Florida. Divers first noticed the large man-made object covered partially by sand on the seafloor. Its proximity to Florida Space Coast, construction, and surface appearance with 8-inch square tiles led them to contact NASA, which has now confirmed the section as part of the Challenger.
The discovery marks the first time that a piece of the Challenger has been located in 25 years.
“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,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “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 Challenger space shuttle exploded 73 seconds after liftoff, killing all seven astronauts aboard and resulting in major changes to the safety culture of the shuttle 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.”
NASA currently is considering what additional actions it may take regarding the artifact that will properly honor the legacy of Challenger’s astronauts and families.
By law, all space shuttle artifacts are the property of the U.S. government.
The majority of debris from the Challenger has not been found, but recovered remains of the shuttle are buried in silo in Cape Canaveral with the exception of a portion of the fuselage that is on display at the Kennedy Space Center.
The History Channel documentary depicting the discovery of the Challenger section is scheduled to air.
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