A documentary crew searching the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida for a World War II-era wreckage uncovered a very different historical artifact.
While digging in the seabed, crew members from the History Channel discovered a piece of the 1986 space shuttle Challenger, the explosion of which resulted in the death of all seven astronauts onboard mere seconds after liftoff. NASA confirmed the findings in an announcement shared Thursday.
The History Channel posted footage of the dive on Twitter. The short video shows two divers examining a large piece of debris covered with square tiles and embedded in sand.
The proximity of the object to the Florida Space Coast, a region around the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Space Force Station where NASA launches its spaceflights, as well as the item's perceived modern construction, led the group to contact NASA. Space shuttle artifacts are property of the U.S. government, said Patti Bielling, news chief at NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center.
"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 in a statement.
"This discovery gives us an opportunity to pause once again, to uplift the legacies of the seven pioneers we lost, and to reflect on how this tragedy changed us. At NASA, the core value of safety is – and must forever remain – our top priority, especially as our missions explore more of the cosmos than ever before."
The Challenger exploded just 73 seconds after launch due to a malfunction blamed on the day's cold temperatures. Its crew consisted of Francis R. "Dick" Scobee, Michael J. Smith, Ronald E. McNair, Ellison S. Onizuka, Judith A. Resnik, Gregory B. Jarvis, and S. Christa McAuliffe (who was a teacher participating in the launch).
The History Channel will release the discovery of the Challenger findings in an episode set to air on Nov. 22. It's part of a series about the Bermuda Triangle. NASA says it is currently considering its next steps regarding what to do with the Challenger debris.