28th Anniversary Challenger Disaster
January 28, 2014

28th Anniversary Of Challenger Disaster Recalls Warnings Of Whistleblower Engineer

Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

Tuesday marks the 28th anniversary since tragedy struck NASA’s space shuttle program for the first time.

On January 28, 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger broke apart just 73 seconds after launch, killing all seven crew members on board. This accident shutdown shuttle operations for two-and-a-half years for an investigation and for developing the replacement, the Space Shuttle Endeavour.

Investigators found that the O-ring seal in the shuttle’s solid rocket booster failed at liftoff, which allowed pressurized hot gas from within the solid rocket motor to reach the outside. This malfunction led to the separation of the right-hand solid rocket booster’s aft attachment and the structural failure of the external tank.

The fallen crew members included NASA astronauts Greg Jarvis, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnik, Michael J. Smith and Dick Scobee, as well as school teacher Christa McAuliffe. McAuliffe was the first member of the Teacher in Space Project and was on her way to becoming the first female teacher in space.

Roger Boisjoly, who died on January 6, 2012, attempted to stop space shuttle Challenger from launching on that day 28-years-ago. Boisjoly was an engineer at solid rocket booster manufacturer Morton Thiokol, and his experience led him to realize the dangers of the shuttle launching in the cold weather that Florida was experiencing. The engineer had said that the rockets weren’t designed to launch safely in weather below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Boisjoly warned NASA back in 1985 that the joints in the boosters could fail in cold weather, and up until the January 28th launch Florida’s weather had not been a concern. The engineer found that in cold temperatures, o-rings in the joints might not seal and could allow flames to reach the rocket’s metal casing.

NASA officials at the time rejected Boisjoly’s warning, saying that he was acting on a gut feeling rather than science. Boisjoly told The Times in an interview in 2003 that NASA tried to blacklist him from the industry. He went so far as to argue that some NASA officials should be indicted for manslaughter charges, and the agency should be abolished.

NASA went another 18 years after the Challenger disaster without any major problems, until Space Shuttle Columbia broke up after re-entry in 2003. Boisjoly said after the Columbia disaster that NASA has “destroyed $5 billion worth of hardware and 14 lives because of their nonsense.”