A documentary film crew searching for World War II-era plane wreckage has recently discovered historical artifacts of a more modern kind. After reviewing the footage, NASA has confirmed that the underwater debris captured off the coast of Florida belongs to the last flight of the space shuttle Challenger, in which seven people died.

This was announced by NASA Administrator Bill Nelson in a statement:

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, January 28, 1986, still feels like yesterday. This discovery gives us an opportunity to pause once again, to honor the memory of the seven pioneers we lost, and to reflect on how this tragedy has changed us. At NASA, the core value of safety is – and must forever remain – our top priority, especially at a time when our missions are exploring more of space than ever before.

Divers working on the documentary spotted a “large man-made object partially covered with sand” on the seabed. It had a modern design, including the eight-inch square tiles commonly used in shuttle thermal protection systems. This tipped off the crew that the debris might be related to NASA, and they contacted the space agency, which reviewed the footage and confirmed its origin. NASA said it was considering what additional action should be taken on the debris.

The tragic “Challenger” took off on January 28, 1986 and disintegrated after 73 seconds of flight. All six crew members and school teacher Christa McAuliffe were killed in the explosion or impact. McAuliffe was selected from more than 11,000 applicants for the position of “NASA Teacher in Space.” The launch was broadcast live on national television and became such an infamous tragedy that many people remember exactly where they were when it happened.

NASA has confirmed that the wreckage found underwater belongs to the "Challenger", which exploded in 1986

Together with McAuliffe, the mission also killed Commander Francis R. “Dick” Scobee, Pilot Michael J. Smith, Specialists Ronald E. McNair, Ellison S. Onizuka, and Judith A. Resnik, and Payload Specialist Gregory B. Jarvis. In 2018, the ISS astronauts completed the science sessions planned by McAuliffe for the trip.

An investigation into the explosion revealed that the O-rings in the joints of the solid-fuel booster segments had hardened from unexpectedly low temperatures the previous evening. Despite the concerns of the engineers of the Morton Thiokol seal manufacturer, the company’s management gave a recommendation for the launch. The tragedy ultimately grounded the space shuttle program for 32 months and led to the creation of the agency’s Office of Safety and Mission Assurance.

“In Search of the Bermuda Triangle,” a documentary about the shuttle wreckage, will air on November 22 on the History Channel.