More than three decades after the tragedy that killed a schoolteacher and six others, much of the destroyed space shuttle Challenger has been found buried in the sand at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center announced the discovery Thursday (US time).
“When you first hear about it, you go straight back to 1986,” said Michael Ciannilli, a NASA executive responsible for the remains of both lost shuttles, Challenger and Columbia.
In a NASA interview, he said it was one of the largest pieces of Challenger found in the decades since the accident.
Divers for a TV documentary crew first saw the piece in March while searching for wreckage from a World War II plane.
NASA recently verified via video that the piece was part of the shuttle that broke apart shortly after launch on January 28, 1986.
All seven on board were killed, including the first teacher on the way to space, Christa McAuliffe.
The remnant is believed to be more than 4.5 meters by 4.5 meters; it is probably bigger than it looks because some of it is covered in sand.
Due to the presence of square thermal tiles, these are believed to have originated from the shuttle’s abdomen, officials said.
The fragment remains on the ocean floor just off the coast of Florida at Cape Canaveral as NASA determines the next step.
It remains the property of the US government.
Mr Ciannilli said the families of all seven Challenger crew members had been notified.
A History Channel documentary about the discovery will air on November 22.