Engineer Who Tried To Stop Challenger Disaster Dead At 73
February 8, 2012

Engineer Who Tried To Stop Challenger Disaster Dead At 73

Roger Boisjoly, who died on January 6 at 73-years-old, was an engineer who tried to stop space shuttle Challenger from launching in 1986.

Boisjoly was an engineer at solid rocket booster manufacturer Morton Thiokol.  He started to warn NASA as early as 1985 that the joints in the boosters could fail in cold weather.

He and four other space shuttle engineers argued on the eve of the launch in 1986 of the dangers the astronauts were facing.

He found that in cold temperatures, o-rings in the joints might not seal, which could allow flames to reach the rocket's metal casing.

Officials at the space agency rejected the arguments the engineers laid out, saying they were acting on a gut feeling, rather than science.

Just over a minute after launch, space shuttle Challenger and the astronauts onboard were lost forever.

Boisjoly did not want to watch the launch because he was so certain that the shuttle would ignite under the frigid conditions.

Allan J. McDonald, a program manager for the solid rocket booster, was a critic of the launch before the disaster as well.  He refused to sign a written recommendation approving the launch, and argued late into the night for it to be cancelled.

Boisjoly told The Times in an interview in 2003 that NASA tried to blackball him from the industry.  He believed some NASA officials should be indicted on manslaughter charges, and the agency abolished.

After the Columbia disaster in 2003, he said: “They [Nasa management] have destroyed $5 billion worth of hardware and 14 lives because of their nonsense.”

He became a sought after forensic engineer after the Challenger incident, and spoke to over 300 universities and civic groups about corporate ethics.

He earned a mechanical engineering degree from the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, and worked in the aerospace industry for 27 years.


Image Caption: Space Shuttle Challenger's smoke plume after the in-flight breakup that killed all seven crew members. (Kennedy Space Center)


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