Filmmakers Find Section of Wrecked Space Shuttle Challenger on Sea Floor – Scientific American | Episode Movies

One of the largest pieces of the crashed NASA space shuttle Challenger was discovered on the seabed by a TV documentary crew searching for a crashed World War II plane.

The artifact, which sits today where it was found by crew filming The History Channel’s new series “The Bermuda Triangle: Into Cursed Waters,” has been positively identified by NASA based on the object’s modern construction and the presence of 8 inch (20 centimeter) square thermal shields (heat shield). Challenger’s segment was found in waters off Florida’s Space Coast, well northwest of the area popularly known as the Bermuda Triangle.

“This discovery gives us an opportunity to pause once more to honor the legacy of the seven pioneers we lost and to reflect on how this tragedy has changed us,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement Thursday (Oct . November) published statement. “Although it has been almost 37 years since seven courageous and brave explorers lost their lives aboard the Challenger, this tragedy will forever be etched in our nation’s collective memory. For millions around the world, including myself, January 28, 1986 still feels like yesterday.”

The search for challengers

The Space Shuttle Challenger broke apart 73 seconds after its 25th launch after seals failed in one of the vehicle’s two solid rocket boosters. NASA’s STS-51L crew, including Commander Francis “Dick” Scobee, Pilot Mike Smith, Mission Specialists Ron McNair, Ellison Onizuka and Judy Resnik, Payload Specialist Greg Jarvis, and Teacher-in-Space Christa McAuliffe, were killed following the malfunction.

A major search and recovery operation was organized after the tragedy, the largest ever undertaken by the US Navy and US Coast Guard at the time. The operation involved thousands of people, 16 surface vessels, a nuclear-powered research submarine, and several robotic and manned submersibles that systematically explored more than 486 square miles (1,666 square kilometers) of seafloor at depths ranging from 10 to over 1,200 feet (3 up to 365 meters).

After seven months, 167 parts of the shuttle with a total weight of 118 tons were recovered. The debris comprised 47% of the Challenger orbiter, 33% of the external tank, 50% of the two solid rocket boosters, and between 40% and 95% of the mission’s three main payloads (an upper inertial stage, a tracking and data relay satellite). and an astronomical instrument for observing Halley’s Comet).

After it was analyzed to find what caused the failure, the wreckage was placed in two silos — Complex 31 and 32 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (now Space Force Station) — each 78 feet deep and 12 feet in diameter (24 x 4 m) that had previously supported Minuteman missiles until 1970. The silos were not thought to be burial sites or memorials to Challenger, but rather storage, and in the years thereafter they were added as more parts were washed ashore to the archives.

In 2015, NASA publicly displayed a large portion of the space shuttle Challenger fuselage for the first and only time as part of Forever Remembered, a permanent memorial to the nation’s fallen shuttle crews at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida.

Unexpected find

The History Channel’s find is the first major discovery of debris from the STS-51L disaster in more than 25 years.

“In reviewing the footage the team has provided, we can see a section about 15 feet by 15 feet [4.5 by 4.5 m]. However, we found that the item extends deeper into the sand, making it difficult to determine the true size at this point. But I’m pretty confident it’s one of the largest pieces of Challenger ever found,” said Mike Cianelli, program manager for NASA’s Apollo, Challenger and Columbia Lessons Learned programs, in a NASA release video explanation.

The History Channel film crew didn’t set out to find a piece of Challenger. Rather, in March 2022, the team embarked on a series of scout dives to examine several suspected wreckage targets off the coast of Florida, with one of those targets being outside of the Bermuda Triangle off the coast of Cape Canaveral. The divers first searched for the wreckage of a PBM Martin Mariner rescue plane that disappeared without a trace on December 5, 1945, while on a mission codenamed Flight 19 they searched for five US Navy torpedo bombers that also disappeared earlier that day.

Instead of WWII-era aircraft wreckage, the team discovered a modern-looking aircraft structure. After consultation with an outside expert and a second dive in May 2022, the TV film crew presented the evidence to former NASA astronaut Bruce Melnick, who suggested it was part of the Challenger. Based on this information, the producers of the series brought the find to NASA’s attention, and in August 2022, Ciannilli confirmed that it was a significant remnant of the fallen shuttle.

“The importance of this large part of the Challenger structure was evident,” said underwater explorer Mike Barnette, who led the History Channel team that made the discovery, in a statement released by A+E Networks. “We recognized the need to immediately bring this find to NASA’s attention. The site, just outside of the Bermuda Triangle off the Florida coast, marks the loss of seven brave astronauts – fellow explorers.”

“One of the very first things we did was to notify all of the Space Shuttle Challenger families so they are aware,” Ciannilli said.

Keep the memory alive

The first episode of The History Channel’s six-part series, The Bermuda Triangle: Into Cursed Waters, slated to premiere November 22, chronicles the Challenger find from the first dive to the team meeting at NASA.

“While the remarkable discovery of the Challenger wreckage was not part of our dive team’s original mission to explore the Bermuda Triangle, the historical importance of the find cannot be underestimated,” said Eli Lehrer, Executive Vice President and Director of Programming, The History Channel. “The Challenger is an important part of our nation’s history and we are honored to bring this important realization to light.”

All debris from the crashed space shuttle Challenger remains the property of the US government. NASA is currently considering what additional actions it could take on the History Channel find to properly honor the legacy of the fallen astronauts and the families who loved them.

“We are currently evaluating ways to move forward after this discovery. But I can assure you that NASA will keep the memory and legacy of the crew and families at the forefront of its thoughts and plans as we move forward,” Ciannilli said. “Keeping the memory of the crew and the mission alive is very important.”

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