Challenger Disaster Home Video: New Footage Surfaces 28 Years After Man Filmed Shuttle Explosion From His Front Lawn

By Ben Wolford on January 28, 2014 2:01 PM EST

Challenger Explosion
New home video footage of the Challenger disaster has surfaced in Florida and was published by The Huffington Post. (Photo: Screenshot/The Huffington Post)

The footage has the grainy quality of a 1980s home video, but it vividly depicts how one family spending a quiet morning on their suburban lawn bore witness to a national tragedy. The video, published by The Huffington Post on the 28th anniversary of the Challenger disaster, was taken by a Florida couple and shows their excitement turn to confusion and finally shock as the shuttle explodes before their eyes.

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"I didn't know what to think, because we saw parts falling down from the shuttle and we had to wait until the TV gave us the report of what had happened," Frances VanKulick, 86, told The Huffington Post. Her husband, Michael, who died two years ago, was holding the camera that morning, Jan. 28, 1986. Seven astronauts, including one school teacher, died in the disaster. Many home videos and amateur photographs have surfaced over the years, but theirs has not been distributed until now. The website first edited and published the clip.

"Do you see it?" Frances asks in the video. "Oh, there it is! It's right over [the neighbor's] chimney." Moments later, a bright streak rises up into the air. Millions of Americans watched the rocket launch on television, listened on their radios, or monitored the progress from mission control. Wind chimes jingle in the VanKulick's front yard in Melbourne, Fla. Trees frame the spotless blue sky. "Wow is that a bright one," Frances says, a moment before the rocket bursts into flames and white smoke.

"Oh! There, did you see the separation?" she said, referring mistakenly to the moment when the two solid rocket boosters are jettisoned into the ocean off the coast of Cape Canaveral, Fla. Normally that happens two minutes after liftoff, but the explosion happened after only 73 seconds. That may explain why Frances says, "God, we never saw that so close."

Frances was a NASA subcontractor and knew something about rocket launches. She quickly realized something may be wrong. "What the heck is that? What is that? What happened?" Michael says he doesn't know. Off-camera, Frances goes to check the television coverage. "A major problem," she reports. "There was an explosion in one of the rockets." The shuttle program would be shut down for more than two years, and an investigation would discover that a design flaw with one of the solid rocket boosters was the cause.

Watch the video here.

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