Eva Deschamps / November 11, 2022
It is one of the greatest tragedies in space history. On January 28, 1986, a shuttle designed for test purposes exploded in mid-air, just 73 seconds after lift-off. On board, seven crew members perished in the accident, including the first “space citizen”, schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe. 36 years after this tragedy which cost seven lives, divers discovered, buried at the bottom of the sea, a part of this space shuttle, announced Nasa this Thursday, November 10.
The team came across this piece of history completely by accident. Initially, they were looking to find the remains of a plane that disappeared during World War II in the Bermuda Triangle. The goal was to make a documentary about the mysterious disappearances of planes and ships in this area of the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida. This is why we have images of this unusual discovery, made last spring. Broadcast from November 22, some excerpts were published by the American History Channel.
On the video, we see two divers at the bottom of the ocean. Surrounded by fishes, they slowly make appear, from under the sand, small black squares. It is about the emblematic tiles of thermal protection which covered all the bottom of the vessel in order to allow him to resist to an infernal heat during its return in the atmosphere. The apparent part is approximately 4,5 meters by 4,5. The piece extending under the sand, buried, we do not know for the moment its total size. But it is already one of the biggest pieces found after this tragedy that marked the space history, confirmed Nasa.
A way for the two divers to mark the history. One of them, Mike Barnette, told to the AFP to have lived a real “emotional roller coaster” by realizing what he was then touching. “When we found it, it was a lot of different emotions,” recalled this marine biologist. “I’m used to diving around wrecks that are decades, if not hundreds of years old, but not a piece of the space program! »
If this segment, remarkably preserved at the bottom of the ocean, is historic, it should not however bring new information on the accident itself. The causes of the tragedy have already been well established. It was linked to joints that had frozen during the night before the flight. To observe the way in which the materials aged could nevertheless be interesting, estimated with the AFP Mike Ciannilli, employee of the Nasa for more than 25 years, for the main part on the program of the space shuttle. But especially, in his eyes, this discovery will allow to revive the memory of Challenger and all the “lessons drawn from this mission”. If NASA has not yet indicated if it intends to extract the piece of water, discussions are underway, said Mike Ciannilli. Whatever is decided, the space agency’s goal “is to make sure we honor the memory and legacy of the crew and their families.