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In this image shared by the HISTORY® Channel, underwater explorer and marine biologist Mike Barnette and wreck diver Jimmy Gadomski investigate a 20-meter segment of the 1986 Challenger space shuttle that the team discovered in waters off the coast of Florida while filming The New HISTORY® Channel Series ” The Bermuda Triangle: Into Cursed Waters ”, premiered Tuesday 22 November 2022 (The HISTORY® Channel via AP)
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CANAVERAL CASTLE, FL (AP) – Much of the destroyed Challenger space shuttle was found buried in sand at the bottom of the Atlantic more than three decades after the tragedy that killed a teacher and six others.

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

“Of course the emotions are back, right?” said Michael Ciannilli, a NASA manager, who confirmed the authenticity of the remains. When he saw the underwater video, “I have to admit my heart sped up and brought me back to 1986 … and what we all went through as a nation.”

According to Ciannilli, it is one of the largest Challenger fragments found in the decades since the accident, and also the first remains discovered since the two left wing fragments were washed ashore in 1996.

Divers for a TV documentary first spotted this piece in March while looking for a WWII plane wreckage. NASA confirmed on video a few months ago that the piece was part of a shuttle that disintegrated shortly after take-off on January 28, 1986. All seven on board died, including the first teacher to fly into space, Christa McAuliffe.

The underwater movie provided “fairly clear and compelling evidence,” said Ciannilli.

The piece is more than 15 feet by 15 feet; it is probably bigger because some of it is covered in sand. Since there are square thermal plates on the piece, it is believed to come from the belly of the shuttle, Ciannilli said.

The fragment remains at the bottom of the ocean just off the Florida coast near Cape Canaveral as NASA determines the next step. It remains the property of the US government. Families of all seven Challenger crew members were notified.

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

Approximately 118 tonnes (107 metric tonnes) of Challenger debris have been excavated since the accident. This is approximately 47% of the total vehicle, including parts of the two solid fuel afterburners and the external fuel tank.

Most of the salvaged wrecks remain buried in abandoned rocket silos at the Cape Canaveral space station. The exception is the left panel of the shuttle displayed at the Kennedy Space Center visitor complex, next to the charred frame of the cockpit window of Columbia, which shattered over Texas during its 2003 return, killing seven astronauts.

Much less was recovered from Colombia – 42 tonnes (38 metric tonnes), accounting for 38% of the ferry. Columbia’s remains are kept in converted offices in the enormous Kennedy hangar.

Launched on an extremely cold morning, the Challenger was devastated by eroded O-rings on the right-hand amplifier. The Columbia ended up with a severed left wing, resulting in foam insulation peeling off the outer fuel tank during take-off. Mismanagement was also blamed.

History Channel documentary about the latest Challenger discovery aired on November 22.

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