Feb. 4, 2010 — -- Twenty-four years after the space shuttle Challenger exploded, a new videotape has turned up -- shot, we are told, by an optometrist from his yard in Florida, and kept in a box in his basement until shortly before he died last year.
After all this time, it's still difficult to watch. Jack Moss, who lived in Corydon, Ky., had a second home with his wife in Winter Haven, Fla., 80 miles from the Kennedy Space Center. In good weather, shuttle launches are often visible from there.
(Click HERE to see the video.)
"He had shot it and didn't think too much of it," said Marc Wessels, a Kentucky minister who runs an organization called the Space Exploration Archive in Louisville. Wessels said he got to know Jack and Mildred Moss last year through his church work.
They were both elderly and ill, said Wessels. They talked about many things, including Wessels' interest in space. "And that's when he told me he had seen the space shuttle disaster."
It took some rummaging through family videotapes to find the Betamax cassette. Wessels said Moss gave him the tape shortly before he died of cancer in December.
As the shuttle rises into the sky, Jack Moss' voice can be heard on the tape: "I don't remember it being that bright and that big."
Then, about 50 seconds into the tape, the vapor plume of the shuttle splits -- the solid rocket boosters flying free as the shuttle explodes.
"Oh, look, there's two," says Mildred's voice on the tape. "It's going off into two."
Jack's voice: "Is that trouble or not? They're not having trouble, are they?"
The world soon realized that there was very serious trouble. Challenger had exploded. Seven astronauts died.
The handheld camera wanders, settling for a moment on a grapefruit tree that Jack Moss said he had covered to protect it from Florida's unseasonable cold. Investigators later determined that cold temperatures contributed to Challenger's destruction.
"It's some sort of historical moment we've got here on tape, I guess," says Moss on the tape before the clip ends.
Challenger Explosion on Newly-Found Video
It would take NASA two years to determine the cause of the accident and update the remaining shuttles so that they could fly again. The astronauts of the first post-Challenger flight, in September 1988, designed a mission patch with seven stars to symbolize their seven lost colleagues.
Wessels has had the tape transferred from its original format; he gave a copy to ABC News. "This historic film needs to be seen," he said in an e-mail. "It captures a date frozen in history -- Jan. 28, 1986 -- a tragic day for the American space program. The film is a graphic reminder: space-faring has had its cost. And we must do all in our power to ensure that tragedies like this one are not repeated."