HISTORY Channel Discovers Segment of Space Shuttle Challenger

In a stunning discovery, a 20-foot segment of the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger was found off the coast of Florida while filming the new HISTORY® Channel series, “The Bermuda Triangle: Into Cursed Waters.”

The discovery marks the first major wreckage discovery from the Challenger launch in more than 25 years.

“The historic and emotional discovery of this Challenger artifact by our incredible team furthers The HISTORY® Channel’s mission to preserve the significant sites and stories of our national heritage,” said Eli Lehrer, Executive Vice President and Chief Programming Officer. of the network.

“Our goal in creating this series was to name some of the thousands of shipwreck sites that inhabit the Bermuda Triangle and, in turn, share their stories, historical significance and even provide answers about how they got there.”

Five astronauts and two payload specialists make up the crew of STS 51-L, which is to fly aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger in January 1986. The crew members are (left to right, front row) the astronauts Michael J. Smith, Francis R. (Dick) Scobee and Ronald E. McNair;  and Ellison S. Onizuka, Sharon Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis, and Judith A. Resnik.  McAuliffe and Jarvis are payload specialists, representing the Teacher in Space project and Hughes Co. respectively.

NASA STS-51L crew members.

On January 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, carrying Christa McAuliffe who was on her way to becoming the first ordinary American civilian to travel to space. Seventy-three seconds later, as hundreds of people watched from the ground, including Christa’s family, the shuttle broke apart in a plume of smoke and fire. Millions more watched the heartbreaking tragedy unfold on live television. There were no survivors.

The recovery of a major piece of Challenger wreckage marks an emotional chapter for the NASA program, the families of the Challenger crew and the nation. But the discovery was not expected.

“While the remarkable discovery of the Challenger wreck was not part of our dive team’s original mission exploring the Bermuda Triangle, the historical significance of the find cannot be underestimated,” Lehrer said. “The Challenger is a vital part of our country’s history, and we are honored to bring this important discovery to light.”

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Produced for The HISTORY® Channel by Lone Wolf Media, the full exploration, including expert commentary from Mike Ciannilli with NASA’s Office of Safety and Mission Assurance, will be chronicled as part of the new six-part series episodes premiering Tuesday, Nov. 22 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on the HISTORY® channel.

Underwater explorer and marine biologist Mike Barnette, who led the team that made the discovery, said his crew quickly realized they had stumbled upon a unique find.

“The importance of this large part of the Challenger structure was obvious,” says Barnette. “We recognized the need to bring this discovery to the immediate attention of NASA. The site, which lies outside the Bermuda Triangle off the coast of Florida, marks the loss of seven brave astronauts – other explorers – and the Challenger disaster was a tragic setback for the US space program.But from this horrific event, important lessons were learned that ultimately led to remarkable progress in space exploration.

Across six episodes, “The Bermuda Triangle: Into Cursed Waters” follows an elite team of underwater detectives anchored by Barnette, who have discovered over 50 shipwrecks, including the SS Cotopaxi; investigators Wayne Abbot and David O’Keefe; US Air Force Lt. Col. Jason Harris, an authority on aviation accidents and wreck diver Jimmy Gadomski. The series follows the team as they attempt to identify shipwrecks found in the Bermuda Triangle, a hotbed of unexplained disappearances dating back hundreds of years.

In early March 2022, the team first embarked on a series of reconnaissance dives to investigate several suspected shipwreck targets off the coast of Florida, with one of those targets being outside of the Bermuda Triangle, off Cape Canaveral. The team was initially searching for the wreckage of a PBM Martin Mariner rescue plane that disappeared without a trace on December 5, 1945, while searching for five US Navy torpedo bombers on a mission code named Flight 19 that had also disappeared earlier in the day. Instead of WWII aircraft debris, the team discovered a modern-looking aviation structure.

After consulting with an outside expert and performing a second dive in May 2022, the team presented all the evidence to retired American astronaut Bruce Melnick, who suspected it was a piece of the space shuttle Challenger. Based on this information, the producers brought the find to NASA’s attention and in August 2022, Mike Ciannilli confirmed that it was a significant Challenger remnant. Viewers will get a first-hand look at the very first dive at the teams meeting at NASA to see how this rare and important discovery unfolded.

In addition to the wreckage of the Challenger, viewers can expect to see the team uncover several other ship and aircraft wrecks this season, helping bring closure and answers to decades-old disappearances.

For more information visit:The Bermuda Triangle: In Cursed Waters »

“The Bermuda Triangle: Into Cursed Waters” is produced for HISTORY Channel® by Lone Wolf Media. Kirk Wolfinger, Joseph Sousa and Adam Costa are the executive producers of Lone Wolf Media. Eli Lehrer, Amy Savitsky and Mike Stiller are executive producers of The HISTORY Channel®.

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