Debris from Nasa’s Space Shuttle Challenger found off Florida coast

The spacecraft exploded 37 years ago, killing all seven crew members on board

Underwater explorer and marine biologist Mike Barnette and wreck diver Jimmy Gadomski explore a segment of the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger that they found off the coast of Florida.  AP
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Remnants of the Space Shuttle Challenger, which exploded shortly after take-off in 1986, were found off the east coast of Florida.

The debris was discovered by a TV documentary crew that was looking for Second World War aircraft wreckage.

Instead, the divers found parts of the Challenger, which exploded 37 years ago killing all seven crew members on board.

“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,” Nasa administrator Bill Nelson said.

“For millions around the globe, myself included, January 28, 1986 still feels like yesterday.

“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.”

(FILES): This November 1985 file provided by NASA shows the crew of the doomed US space shuttle Challenger. Front row from left are: astronauts Mike Smith, Dick Scobee, Ron McNair, back row from left: Ellison Onizuka, school teacher Christa McAuliffe, Greg Jarvis, and Judith Resnik.  The US space shuttle is part cargo truck, part passenger bus, part airplane built for orbit, and has known soaring highs and devastating lows during its 30-year career in spaceflight.  The shuttle program was born in 1972 with the decision by president Richard Nixon to launch the program, which would become the major focus of US human spaceflight ambitions over the next four decades.  Five years into the program, which mainly focused on deploying satellites into orbit and conducting experiments in space, disaster struck when the Challenger exploded 73 seconds after liftoff on January 28, 1986.  The blast was seen on live television by countless Americans including millions of school children who tuned in to watch the shuttle lift off carrying teacher Christa McAuliffe, 37, who planned to be the first to give lessons from space.  McAuliffe and the other six crew on board perished, and the shuttle program was grounded for nearly three years. The cause of the problem was linked to a faulty seal on one of the rocket boosters.    
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A major malfunction 73 seconds after lift-off resulted in the loss of Challenger and the crew on board.

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

Some space shuttle programme employees had raised concerns when they noticed ice forming on the shuttle.

The spacecraft had waited overnight on a launch pad at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, where a cold front brought freezing temperatures.

Despite concerns, managers cleared the mission for the launch.

The mission was commanded by Francis Scobee and piloted by Michael Smith.

The other crew members on board were mission specialists Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnik, payload specialist Gregory Jarvis and teacher Christa McAuliffe.

Nasa’s Columbia mission in 2003 also failed, killing seven astronauts on board. The spacecraft broke up on re-entry over the western US.

The History Channel documentary depicting the discovery of the Challenger debris is scheduled to air on November 22.

The episode will appear as part of a series about the Bermuda Triangle.

Updated: November 11, 2022, 12:38 PM