February 21, 2024

“For millions around the globe, myself included, Jan. 28, 1986, still feels like yesterday,” Bill Nelson, the administrator of NASA, said 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.”

The crew members who were killed were Lt. Col. Ellison S. Onizuka of the Air Force; the pilot, Cmdr. Michael J. Smith of the Navy; Christa McAuliffe, a high school teacher; the mission commander, Francis R. Scobee; Gregory B. Jarvis; Dr. Ronald E. McNair, the country’s second Black astronaut; and Dr. Judith A. Resnik, a biomedical engineer.

Seventeen years after the Challenger explosion, Columbia, another shuttle, was re-entering Earth’s atmosphere on Feb. 1, 2003, when it broke up, killing its seven crew members and sending debris across Texas.

Ms. McAuliffe’s inclusion in the Challenger mission had stirred excitement among the country’s students and educators, with thousands of them, including Mr. Barnette, watching the launch, entranced by the possibility of a teacher in space.

“I remember the day, I remember where I was,” Mr. Barnette said. “It’s conjured all those emotions and what the whole nation went through.”

Mr. Barnette said he could not disclose where exactly the discovery was made because officials do not want amateur divers touching and damaging the piece. But Mr. Barnette and NASA said it was located off the Florida coast near Cape Canaveral, northwest of the area known as the Bermuda Triangle. The piece, which is the government’s property, will remain there until NASA decides what to do next.

The agency said that it was “considering what additional actions it may take regarding the artifact that will properly honor the lega0cy of Challenger’s fallen astronauts and the families who loved them.”

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