The Space Shuttle Challenger disaster occurred on January 28, 1986, when the NASA Space Shuttle orbiter Challenger broke apart 73 seconds into its flight, leading to the deaths of its seven crew members. The spacecraft disintegrated over the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Cape Canaveral, Florida at 11:38 EST. Disintegration of the vehicle began after an O-ring seal in its right solid rocket booster failed at liftoff.

The crew compartment and many other vehicle fragments were eventually recovered from the ocean floor after a lengthy search and recovery operation. Inside the twisted debris of the crew cabin were the bodies of the astronauts, which were nearly unrecognizable after ten weeks of immersion in salt water and scavenging marine life. Their remains were in a semi-liquified state that bore little resemblance to anything living. Judy Resnik was the first to be removed, followed by Christa McAuliffe. More bodies and fragments of bodies were retrieved over several hours. The remains of the crew that were identifiable were returned to their families on April 29, 1986.

On board Challenger was an American flag, dubbed the Challenger flag, that was sponsored by Boy Scout Troop 514 of Monument, Colorado. It was recovered intact, still sealed in its plastic container.

All recovered non-organic debris from Challenger was ultimately buried in a former missile silo at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Launch Complex 31.  A pair of 10,000- pound concrete caps were placed over the Minuteman silos, leaving nearly 125 tons of twisted metal in an unmarked tomb 90 feet underground.