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The National Aeronautics and Space Administration said today that it had recovered remains of each of the seven Challenger astronauts and had finished its operations to retrieve the wreckage of the space shuttle’s crew compartment from the ocean floor.
In a statement released at the Kennedy Space Center, Rear Adm. Richard H. Truly, who heads the NASA team studying the Challenger explosion, said recovery operations of the crew compartment were completed Friday, after divers and a remote-controlled submersible craft wrapped up a final weeklong video sweep of the site, located in about 87 feet of water 17 miles northeast of here.
Referring to the remains of the seven astronauts, the statement added that ”final forensic work and future planning in accordance with family desires will be completed within the next several days, and will be announced when appropriate.”
In New York City today, Marvin Resnik, whose daughter Judith was among the Challenger crew, said the remains would be transferred from Kennedy to the military morgue in Dover, Del., for cremation or preparation for burial.
5 Things You May Not Know About the Challenger Shuttle Disaster
1. The Challenger didn’t actually explode.
2. The astronauts aboard the shuttle didn’t die instantly.
3. Relatively few people actually saw the Challenger disaster unfold on live television.
Though popular wisdom about the 30-year-old tragedy holds that millions of people watched the Challenger’s horrific fate unfold live on television—in addition to the hundreds watching on the ground—the fact is that most people watched taped replays of the actual event. All major networks carrying the launch cut away when the shuttle broke apart, and the tragedy occurred at a time (11:39 a.m. Eastern Time on a Tuesday) when most people were in school or at work. CNN broadcast the launch in its entirety, but cable news was a relatively new phenomenon at the time, and even fewer people had satellite dishes. Though the general public may not have been watching live, NASA had arranged a satellite broadcast onto TV sets in many schools because of McAuliffe’s role in the mission, and many of the schoolchildren who watched remember the disaster as a pivotal moment in their childhoods.
4. In the aftermath of the tragedy, some suggested that the White House pushed NASA to launch the shuttle in time for President Ronald Reagan’s State of the Union address, scheduled for later on January 28.
NASA officials apparently felt intense pressure to push the Challenger’s mission forward after repeated delays, partially due to difficulties getting the previous shuttle, Columbia, back on the ground. But the rumors that pressure was exerted from above, specifically from the Reagan White House, in order to connect the shuttle or its astronauts directly in some way with the State of the Union
In the aftermath of the tragedy, Reagan postponed his annual message to the nation (the first, and so far only, time in history a president has done so) and addressed the nation about the Challenger instead. Widely regarded as one of the best speeches of his presidency, the 650-word address ended with a moving quote from the poem “High Flight,” by the American pilot John McGee Jr., who was killed while flying for the Royal Canadian Air Force in World War II.
Of the Challenger astronauts, Reagan said: “We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and ‘slipped the surly bonds of earth’ to ‘touch the face of God.’”
5. More than a decade after the Challenger disaster, two large pieces from the spacecraft washed ashore at a local beach.
Within a day of the shuttle tragedy, salvage operations recovered hundreds of pounds of metal from the Challenger. In March 1986, the remains of the astronauts were found in the debris of the crew cabin. Though all of the important pieces of the shuttle were retrieved by the time NASA closed its Challenger investigation in 1986, most of the spacecraft remained in the Atlantic Ocean. A decade later, memories of the disaster resurfaced when two large pieces of the Challenger washed up in the surf at Cocoa Beach, 20 miles south of the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral.
NASA believed the two barnacle-encrusted fragments, one measuring more than 6 feet wide and 13 feet long, were originally connected, and that they came from the shuttle’s left wing flap. After being verified, the newly found parts were placed in two abandoned missile silos with the other shuttle remains, which number around 5,000 pieces and weigh in at some 250,000 pounds.
ALL SHUTTLE CREW REMAINS RECOVERED, NASA SAYS
Since then, officials have refused to discuss the recovery of the crew compartment or the remains of the crew, saying they were doing so out of deference to the families of the astronauts killed when the Challenger exploded Jan. 28, shortly after it lifted off from Kennedy Space Center.
Salvage operations for other portions of the shuttle were continuing off the Florida coast today. Last week, teams recovered a 4,000-pound piece of the right booster rocket casing that included the joint that investigators believe ruptured and led to the explosion. The casing, which includes a burned-out area 15 inches high and 28 inches wide, is being analyzed by NASA engineers.
Lieut. Comdr. Deborah A. Burnette of the Navy, the spokesman for the salvage effort, said the recovery operation, which began the day the shuttle exploded, is the largest single salvage exercise in the history of the Navy, which directed the overall exercise.