Nearly 37 years after the space shuttle Challenger exploded, a television crew found a remnant of the shuttle during an underwater dive.
The artifact was discovered by a documentary television crew that was looking for World War II-era plane debris, NASA confirmed in a news release on Thursday. Divers spotted “a large humanmade object covered partially by sand on the seafloor,” and the team contacted NASA because the materials looked modern and the dive was close to Florida’s Space Coast.
The crew was filming for an upcoming series that will air on the History Channel. They began diving near Florida’s coast in March.
“The significance of this large section of Challenger’s structure was readily apparent,” Mike Barnette, who led the team that made the discovery, said in a news release from the History Channel. “We recognized the necessity of bringing this find to the immediate attention of NASA.”
NASA officials later viewed footage from the divers and confirmed the discovery was part of Challenger, according to NASA’s news release. The remnant is at least 15 feet by 15 feet, and it could be larger because part of it is covered in sand. Officials believe it was a piece of the shuttle’s belly.
Challenger broke apart after its liftoff in January 1986. All seven people on board were killed, including Christa McAuliffe, the first schoolteacher bound for space.
“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. For millions around the globe, myself included, Jan. 28, 1986, still feels like yesterday,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said.
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NASA officials are still considering what they will do with the remnant in an effort to honor the people who died on the shuttle and their families. The fragment is still in the ocean.
The History Channel documentary detailing the discovery premieres Nov. 22. The episode is part of a series about the Bermuda Triangle, though the area where the artifact was found is northwest of the fabled part of the Atlantic Ocean.
Contributing: The Associated Press