The tragic launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger on morning of January 28th, 1986. (Michael Hindes)
When Michael Hindes was going through the attic of his grandmother, who had recently passed away, he made a startling discovery.
Deep in a forgotten box was a plastic bag full of original photographs of the 1986 space shuttle disaster that killed seven Americans, including schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe, KTAR reports.
Hindes told KTAR that he was looking for photos of his grandmother to display at her memorial service when he found the images of the ill-fated shuttle.
At first Hindes thought the photos were of a regular shuttle launch. After looking more closely, he quickly realized otherwise.
"As I go through them, I'm watching the shuttle go up, and up, and up," he said. "Then I see that iconic cloud."
So, how did his grandmother have the photos? Hindes explained to KTAR that his grandfather used to work as an electrician for NASA. The photos were taken by a friend of his grandfather, who also worked at the space agency.
"My grandfather's brother had a team that worked on the Crawler, which is the giant machine that slowly moves the shuttle from the shuttle bay out to the launch pad," he said. "On that crew was a gentleman who they became friends with and it was this gentleman who ended up taking these pictures."
Hindes put the heartbreaking photos online where they quickly went viral. Hindes told KTAR that he received a slew of responses from people who saw them and were touched by the memories they inspired, including one message from a person claiming to be a relative of McAuliffe's.
"They wanted to let me know that knowing that the tragedy that happened is still so engrained in the hearts and minds of people today, that it really meant a lot to this person and their family," he said. "They really wanted to express how moved they were by reading the comments and by knowing that Christa's legacy still lives on."
After the Challenger disaster, a study was conducted to determine its cause. The investigators found that a problem with the joint between the two lower portions of the right solid rocket motor was to blame. Specifically, a seal intended to prevent hot gases from "leaking through the joint during the propellant burn of the rocket motor" failed.
Follow Mike Krumboltz on Twitter (@mikekrumboltz).