Underwater explorer and marine biologist Mike Barnette and wreck diver Jimmy Gadomski explore a 20-foot segment of the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger that the team discovered in the waters off the coast of Florida.
The HISTORY® Channel

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

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

“The historic and emotional discovery of this Challenger artifact by our incredible team reinforces The HISTORY® Channel’s mission to preserve important sites and stories from our national heritage,” says Eli Lehrer, the network's executive vice president and head of programming. 

“Our goal for creating this series was to give a name to some of the thousands of wreck sites that call the Bermuda Triangle home and in turn share their stories, historical significance and even provide answers as to how they came to be there." 

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

Five astronauts and two payload specialists make up the STS 51-L crew, scheduled to fly aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger in January of 1986. Crewmembers are (left to right, front row) 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.
Getty Images / Bettmann / Contributor
Five astronauts and two payload specialists made up the Challenger crew. From left to right, front row: Michael J. Smith, Francis R. Scobee and Ronald E. McNair Back row Ellison S. Onizuka, Sharon Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis and Judith A. Resnik.

The recovery of a major piece of the Challenger wreckage marks an emotional chapter for the NASA program, the Challenger crew's families—and the nation. But the discovery was not anticipated—the team had been searching for wreckage of a World War II-era aircraft when they came across the Challenger segment.

"While the remarkable discovery of wreckage from Challenger was not part of our diving team’s initial mission exploring the Bermuda Triangle, the find’s historical significance cannot be understated," says Lehrer. "The Challenger is a vital part of our nation’s history, and we are honored to bring this important finding to light.”

NASA leaders viewed footage of HISTORY's underwater dive off the East coast of Florida, and confirmed it revealed an artifact from the space shuttle Challenger.

“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,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson 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." 

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 premiering on Tuesday, November 22 at 10pm ET/PT on The HISTORY® Channel.

Underwater explorer and marine biologist Mike Barnette, who led the team that made the discovery, says his crew was quickly aware they were stumbling upon a unique find.

“The significance of this large section of Challenger’s structure was readily apparent,” says Barnette. “We recognized the necessity of bringing this find to the immediate attention of NASA. The site, which is outside of the Bermuda Triangle off the Florida coast, marks the loss of seven brave astronauts—fellow explorers—and the Challenger disaster was a tragic setback for America’s space program. But from this horrific event, important lessons were learned that have ultimately led to remarkable advances in space exploration.”

Across six episodes, “The Bermuda Triangle: Into Cursed Waters” follows an elite team of underwater detectives anchored by Barnette, who has discovered over 50 shipwrecks, including the SS Cotopaxi; investigators Wayne Abbot and David O’Keefe; U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Jason Harris, an authority on aeronautical crashes and wreck diver Jimmy Gadomski. The series follows the team as they attempt to identify wrecks found within the Bermuda Triangle—a hotbed for unexplained disappearances dating back hundreds of years.

In early March 2022, the team first embarked on a series of scout dives to investigate several suspected wreck targets off the coast of Florida, with one of those targets being outside of the Bermuda Triangle, offshore from Cape Canaveral. The team was initially looking for the wreck 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 that day. Instead of World War II-era plane debris, the team discovered a modern-looking aviation structure. 

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

In addition to the Challenger wreckage, the team uncovered several other ship and plane wrecks this season, helping to bring closure and answers to decades-old disappearances.

For more information, visit: 'The Bermuda Triangle: Into Cursed Waters'

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