Bermuda Triangle Expedition Finds Piece of the Challenger Shuttle

Divers shooting an episode of a HISTORY Channel show discovered an artifact from the Space Shuttle Challenger in the waters off Florida’s Space Coast, NASA confirmed.

The 4.5 metre by 4.5 metre piece of wreckage is the first Challenger artifact discovered since pieces washed ashore in 1996.

The film crew discovered the shuttle fragment earlier this year while searching for a downed World War II-era aircraft. Their show — called “The Bermuda Triangle: Into Cursed Waters” follows a team of researchers and divers as they attempt to identify wrecks within the Bermuda Triangle.

While searching, the team found the Challenger artifact in an area known as the Space Coast, to the northwest of the Bermuda Triangle.

 

Just 73 seconds after liftoff on Jan. 28, 1986, the Challenger exploded in the air above Florida. The accident killed all seven astronauts on board, including — famously — schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe.

“For millions around the globe, myself included, Jan. 28, 1986, still feels like yesterday,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson in a press release. “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.”

“My heart skipped a beat”

According to the HISTORY Channel, the dive team first scouted the wreckage in March 2022 as part of a larger series of dives investigating sites in and around the Bermuda Triangle. The crew’s primary goal was finding the wreckage of a PBM Martin Mariner Rescue Plane that vanished on Dec. 5, 1945.

Marine biologist Mike Barnette, an experienced wreck investigator, knew right away the find was important. The artifact’s visible thermal tiles, in particular, indicated it was no typical aircraft wreckage.

The thermal tiles visible in this screenshot were clues to the dive team that the wreckage was no ordinary aircraft. Screenshot: The HISTORY Channel

 

After completing a second dive in Aug. 2022, the HISTORY Channel crew contacted retired astronaut Bruce Melnick, followed quickly by NASA. A team at NASA verified the wreckage as a piece of the Challenger Shuttle. The find elicited strong emotions in NASA employees who viewed the footage.

Michael Ciannilli is one of the NASA managers who confirmed the identity of the wreckage.

“Of course, the emotions come back, right?” he told the Associated Press. “My heart skipped a beat, I must say, and it brought me right back to 1986…and what we all went through as a nation.”

the space shuttle challenger launches on its last flight.

The Space Shuttle Challenger clears the tower on Jan 28, 1986. An unusual cold snap affected the integrity of O-ring seals in the solid rocket booster segment joints, leading to disaster 73 seconds later. Photo: NASA

 

The Challenger explosion, along with the later disaster that befell the Columbia in 2003, marked a turning point for the American space program. President George W. Bush announced the retirement of the Space Shuttle program in 2004, though flights continued until 2011 due to delays in the construction of the International Space Station.

Into Cursed Waters

The first episode of The Bermuda Triangle: Into Cursed Waters airs on the HISTORY Channel on Nov. 22 and is available for streaming the next day. The episode, titled “A Big Find”, chronicles the experience of finding the Challenger wreckage and includes commentary from several NASA representatives.

Andrew Marshall

Andrew Marshall is an award-winning painter, photographer, and freelance writer. Andrew's essays, illustrations, photographs, and poems can be found scattered across the web and in a variety of extremely low-paying literary journals. You can find more of his work at www.andrewmarshallimages.com, @andrewmarshallimages on Instagram and Facebook, and @pawn_andrew on Twitter (for as long as that lasts).