Section of wrecked space shuttle Challenger found on ocean floor

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — Much of the wrecked space shuttle Challenger has been found buried in the sand at the bottom of the Atlantic, more than three decades after the tragedy that killed a schoolteacher and six others.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — Much of the wrecked space shuttle Challenger has been found buried in the sand at the bottom of the Atlantic, more than three decades after the tragedy that killed a schoolteacher and six others.

NASA’s Kennedy Space Center announced the discovery on Thursday.

“Of course the emotions come back, don’t they?” said Michael Ciannilli, a NASA official who confirmed the authenticity of the rest. When he saw the underwater video footage, “My heart skipped a beat, I must say, and it took me back to 1986…and what we’ve all been through as a nation.”

It’s one of the largest pieces of Challenger found in the decades after the crash, according to Ciannilli, and the first remnant discovered since two fragments of the left wing washed ashore in 1996.

Divers in a TV documentary first spotted the piece in March while searching for the wreckage of a Second World War plane. NASA video-verified a few months ago that the part was part of the shuttle which broke apart shortly after liftoff on January 28, 1986. All seven people on board were killed, including the first teacher bound for space, Christa McAuliffe.

The underwater video provided “pretty clear and compelling evidence,” Ciannilli said.

The room measures over 15 by 15 feet (4.5 by 4.5 meters); it’s probably bigger because part of it is covered in sand. Because there are square thermal tiles on the piece, it is believed to have come from the shuttle’s belly, Ciannilli said.

The fragment remains on the ocean floor just off the coast of Florida near Cape Canaveral as NASA determines the next step. It remains the property of the US government. The families of the Challenger’s seven crew members have been notified.

“We want to make sure that whatever we do, we do the right thing for the crew’s legacy,” Ciannilli said.

Approximately 118 tonnes (107 metric tons) of Challenger debris has been recovered since the crash. This is approximately 47% of the entire vehicle, including parts of the two solid fuel boosters and the external fuel tank.

Most of the recovered wreckage remains buried in abandoned missile silos at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. The exception is a left side shuttle panel on display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, next to the charred cockpit window frame of the shuttle Columbia, which broke up over Texas during re-entry in 2003 , killing seven astronauts.

Much less was recovered from Columbia – 42 tons (38 metric tons) representing 38% of the Shuttle. Columbia’s remains are stored in converted offices inside Kennedy’s huge hangar.

Launched on an exceptionally cold morning, Challenger was knocked down by eroded O-rings in the right servomotor. Columbia was left with a clipped left wing, the result of the outer fuel tank foam insulation breaking on takeoff. Mismanagement has also been blamed.

A History Channel documentary detailing Challenger’s latest discovery will air on November 22.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department is supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Marcia Dunn, Associated Press





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