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Large piece of space shuttle Challenger found off Florida coast

This is the first major discovery of wreckage from the shuttle launch in more than 25 years, the HISTORY Channel said.

HOUSTON — A big piece of the exploded space shuttle Challenger was found off the coast of Florida.  

The HISTORY® Channel announced Thursday finding the 20-foot chunk of the 1986 shuttle while shooting its new series “The Bermuda Triangle: Into Cursed Waters.” This is the first major discovery of wreckage from the shuttle launch in more than 25 years, the HISTORY Channel said.

The network released the following statement:

“The historic and emotional discovery of this Challenger artifact by our incredible team reinforces The HISTORY Channel’s mission to preserve important sites and stories from our national heritage,” said Eli Lehrer, Executive Vice President and Head of Programming for The HISTORY Channel. “Our goal for creating this series was to give a name to some of the thousands of wreck sites that call the Bermuda Triangle home and in turn share their stories, historical significance and even provide answers as to how they came to be there.  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. The Challenger is a vital part of our nation’s history, and we are honored to bring this important finding to light.”

"The significance of this large section of Challenger's structure was readily apparent,” said underwater explorer Mike Barnette, who led that team that made the discovery. “We recognized the necessity of bringing this find to the immediate attention of NASA. The site, which is outside of the Bermuda Triangle off the Florida coast, marks the loss of seven brave astronauts--fellow explorers--and the Challenger disaster was a tragic setback for America's space program. But from this horrific event, important lessons were learned that have ultimately led to remarkable advances in space exploration."

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NASA said its leaders viewed the videos of the HISTORY Channel’s underwater dive and confirms it depicts an artifact from the Challenger.

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“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 last Challenger mission was commanded by Francis R. “Dick” Scobee and piloted by Michael J. Smith, NASA said. The other crew members on board were mission specialists Ronald E. McNair; Ellison S. Onizuka, and Judith A. Resnik; payload specialist Gregory B. Jarvis; and teacher S. Christa McAuliffe.

According to NASA, a “major malfunction” 73 seconds after liftoff resulted in the explosion that destroyed the shuttle and killed all seven astronauts aboard.

“An agency investigation later showed unexpectedly cold temperatures affected the integrity of O-ring seals in the solid rocket booster segment joints,” NASA said.

“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.”

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The HISTORY Channel documentary that will show the discovery of the Challenger artifact is scheduled to air Tuesday, Nov. 22. Although the episode will appear as part of a series about the Bermuda Triangle, the artifact was found in waters off Florida’s Space Coast, northwest of the area popularly known as the Bermuda Triangle.

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