Cape Canaveral, Fla. ( Associated Press) — A large part of the Challenger spacecraft has been found buried at the bottom of the Atlantic, more than three decades after the tragedy that killed seven of its crew members.
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center announced the discovery on Thursday.
“Of course the feelings come back, don’t they?” said Michael Ciannilli, a NASA manager who confirmed the authenticity of the remains. When he saw the underwater video, he said, “My heart stopped beating, I must say, and it brought me back to 1986 … and what we all live for as a nation.”
According to Ciannilli, it is one of the largest fragments of Challenger found after the accident, and the first remains discovered since two left-wing fragments washed up on a shoreline in 1996.
Divers from a televised documentary first saw the piece in March while searching for the wreckage of a World War II plane. NASA verified via video a few months ago that the fragment was part of the shuttle that disintegrated shortly after liftoff on January 28, 1986. All seven on board died, including Christa McAuliffe, the first space-bound teacher.
The underwater video provided “very clear and compelling evidence,” Ciannilli said.
The piece measures over 4.5 meters by 4.5 meters (15 feet by 15 feet); It is probably bigger because some part of it is covered with sand. Because there are square thermal mosaics on the piece, it is believed to come from the shuttle’s belly, Ciannelli said.
The piece remains at sea level near Cape Canaveral off the coast of Florida while NASA determines the next step. It remains the property of the United States Government. The families of seven crew members have already been informed.
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