Divers discover long-lost part of space shuttle Challenger

IMore than 36 years ago, NASA suffered one of its greatest tragedies when the space shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after liftoff on a cold January morning in 1986. Yesterday, NASA reported that a piece of wreckage from the Challenger was found off the coast of Florida by a team of divers filming a documentary about the loss of World War II-era aircraft in the same area.

“My heart skipped a beat,” Michael Cianelli, a NASA manager who reviewed the footage and confirmed the authenticity of the find, told the AP. “Of course the emotions come right back.”

The remnant measures about 4.5 m by 4.5 m (15 ft by 15 ft) and is covered with a square thermal liner, indicating that it came from the belly of the spacecraft. To date, about 118 tons of debris, or 47 percent of the entire vehicle, has been retrieved and buried in abandoned rocket silos at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.

The new wreckage is the first discovered since 1996, ten years after the accident. The find has not yet been discovered, but NASA takes such artifacts seriously and solemnly. Dive crews are expected to lift it from the ocean floor and line it up with the rest of the lost spacecraft — part of a tribute to the seven lost astronauts who died that long-ago morning.

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Write to Jeffrey Kluger c [email protected].

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