Space Shuttle 30th Anniversary

Challenger, A fallen Space Shuttle – A History

A TV documentary crew went looking for a crashed World War II aircraft uncovered one of the largest fragments of NASA’s lost space shuttle Challenger on the ocean floor.

The remains that was discovered by the crew filming “The Bermuda Triangle: Into Cursed Waters” on The History Channel, was positively identified as a segment of Challenger that was found in waters off Florida’s Space Coast, well northwest of the area popularly known as the Bermuda Triangle.

A bit of History into Challenger:

The STS-51-L space shuttle mission was the tenth Challenger flight and the twenty-fifth overall for the Space Shuttle. Dick Scobee served as the crew’s commander, and the crew was revealed on January 27, 1985. The mission specialists were Ronald McNair, Judith Resnik, and Ellison Onizuka, while the pilot was Michael Smith. Gregory Jarvis, who was sent to perform research for the Hughes Aircraft Company, and Christa McAuliffe, who flew as a participant in the Teacher in Space Project, were the two payload specialists.

The main task of the Challenger crew was to deploy TDRS-B, a Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS), using an Inertial Upper Stage (IUS). TDRS-B was to be a member of a constellation that would have allowed for continuous contact with circling spacecraft. Along with studying Halley’s Comet as it approached the sun, the team also intended to launch and recover a SPARTAN satellite.

The mission was supposed to launch in July 1985, but it was put off until November and then January 10. Originally set to launch on January 22, the mission was postponed until January 28.

On January 28, 1986, Challenger’s contribution to the American space program came to a tragic end. Seven astronauts and the spacecraft were lost in an explosion that resulted from a rocket failure 73 seconds into mission STS 51-L.

The Search and the Unexpected:

Image credit: The History Channel

Following the catastrophe, the U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard mounted the biggest search and salvage operation they had ever undertaken. Numerous robotic and crewed submersibles, 16 surface vessels, a nuclear-powered research submarine, and thousands of people participated in the operation, which involved thoroughly inspecting more than 486 square nautical miles (1,666 square kilometers) of ocean floor at depths ranging from 10 to more than 1,200 feet (3 to 365 meters).

Seven months later, 167 fragments of the shuttle totaling 118 tons were found. Between 40% and 95% of the mission’s three main payloads were comprised of the debris, together with 47% of the orbiter Challenger, 33% of the external tank, and 50% of the two solid rocket boosters.

Finding a piece of the Challenger was not the goal of the History Channel film crew. Instead, the team began a series of scout dives in March 2022 to investigate several probable wreck locations off the coast of Florida, one of which was outside the Bermuda Triangle, offshore from Cape Canaveral.

The team found a modern-looking aeronautical building instead of World War II-era plane wreckage. Former NASA astronaut Bruce Melnick was presented with the evidence after speaking with an outside specialist and doing a second dive in May 2022. Melnick had a hunch it was a piece of the Challenger. Based on that information, the show’s creators alerted NASA to the discovery, and in August 2022, Ciannilli confirmed it was a sizeable piece of the destroyed shuttle.

The Challenger discoveries is covered in the first episode of The History Channel’s six-part series “The Bermuda Triangle: Into Cursed Waters,” which is set to broadcast on November 22. It covers everything from the first dive to the teams’ meeting at NASA.

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