A TV crew conducting an underwater dive off Florida’s east coast found an artifact belonging to the space shuttle Challenger, NASA announced in a Thursday press release.
The divers were filming a segment for a History Channel documentary on the Bermuda Triangle as they searched for the wreckage of World War II-era aircraft when they discovered an apparently modern, human-made item with 8-inch square tiles, according to NASA.
Given the close proximity of the item to the Florida Space Coast, the TV crew contacted NASA, who in turn confirmed the authenticity of the item as a piece of the Challenger, the agency wrote in the release. The discovery represents the first time a segment of the Challenger wreckage has been located in 25 years, according to Reuters.
The Challenger was lost on January 28, 1986 as it launched on a mission known as STS-51L due to a malfunction related to the impact of unexpectedly cold weather on O-ring seals in the rocket’s booster, according to NASA. Seven astronauts including teacher Christa McAuliffe perished with the loss of the shuttle.
Underwater explorer and leader of the History Channel diving team Mike Barnette told People that “the significance of this large section of Challenger’s structure was readily apparent.”
Barnette continued, saying the discovery “marks the loss of seven brave astronauts –– fellow explorers –– and the Challenger disaster was a tragic setback for America’s space program.”
What they uncover off the coast of Florida, outside of the Triangle, marks the first discovery of wreckage from the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger in more than 25 years. Don’t miss the premiere of The Bermuda Triangle: Into Cursed Waters on Tuesday, November 22 at 10/9C. pic.twitter.com/LWUoFXxEnK
— HISTORY (@HISTORY) November 10, 2022
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said that the loss of the Challenger “will forever be seared in the collective memory of our country,” the agency wrote in the release. (RELATED: NASA Launches Massive, $10 Billion Telescope Into Space. It’s 100 Times More Powerful Than Hubble)
Nelson continued, saying the “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 footage of the discovery is scheduled to air on the History Channel on Nov. 22, and NASA is currently exploring potential actions that may be taken with regard to the Challenger artifact, according to the agency release.
NASA recently planned and executed a Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) to successfully deflect an asteroid known as Dimorphos, bolstering the capabilities of the agency to defend the Earth from future asteroid strikes.