They are nightmarish images that are burned into the national consciousness: the ominous twin exhaust trails of the exploding space shuttle Challenger.
More than a quarter century later, in an extremely rare discovery, Bob Karman of Hicksville, New York, has uncovered amateur VHS videotape of the tragedy, shot during his family's vacation on that day, January 28, 1986. The video first surfaced on New Scientist.
Appearing on CNN Newsroom on Friday, Karman said he believes it is the only known VHS amateur videotape of the explosion. The other known tape was shot on Betamax format, Karman told CNN's Fredricka Whitfield. "The emotions do come out every time you see the tape and the tragedy that occurred," said Karman. "It just reinforces the bravery of these astronauts going up in space."
In the video, Karman, his late wife and his then-three-year-old daughter Kim are at an Orlando, Florida, airport - about 50 miles from Kennedy Space Center.
"While we were at the airport people were returning from their vacations and I said, 'Look over there and you'll be able to see the space shuttle taking off,'" Karman recalled.
Off camera, you can hear voices in the video suggesting that they're unaware of the historic events that are taking place before their eyes.
"They're on their way," says a voice.
Of course they weren't on their way.
Challenger's seven crew members - who President Reagan famously said "slipped the surly bonds of Earth" - perished shortly after liftoff. See CNN's 25th anniversary coverage from 2011.
"I had a sense that there was something going wrong," said Karman. "But it wasn't until we got on the airplane that the pilot announced the tragedy that had occurred."
"The rest of the plane flight home was very somber."
Karman's daughter can be seen at the top of the video. She now works at New Scientist, said Karman, who stumbled across the tape again after all these years as part of a home-video digitizing project in preparation for his retirement.
"I remembered this tape, but it was a lot better than I remembered," Karman said. "So I sent a copy to my daughter at New Scientist magazine and it became an Internet sensation."
How often does an artifact like this pop up? Especially when you consider that most Americans didn't own video recorders in 1986. It makes you wonder what other historic video treasures are out there buried in closets, attics and basements.
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