You’ve probably never heard of Roger Boisjoly, an engineer who worked for NASA contractor Morton Thiokol during the 1980’s. The company he worked for developed the infamous rocket-booster seals that caused the shuttle to explode in mid-air in January of 1986, even as the world watched on live television. It is fairly common knowledge that the shuttle’s unexpected breaking apart was caused by faulty equipment, but this was something that Roger Boisjoly knew all along. As a matter of fact, he became fascinated with it, even going as far as sending a letter to his employer saying that continuing with the Challenger program as it was would cause “a catastrophe of the highest order — loss of human life.”
What Boisjoly knew was that the booster seals were prone to unseal in cold weather. Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida isn’t know for cold weather, but on the morning of the Challenger launch, temperatures were quite cool. However, the warnings of Boisjoly were ignored, and the launch went on as planned. The rest as they say, is history. The disaster was even more tragic because Christa McAuliffe was supposed to become the first teacher in space. All seven astronauts aboard Challenger were killed when the shuttle fell to pieces 73 seconds after launch.
A few years later, Boisjoly agreed to a rare interview with the Associated Press. He admitted that even though he tried to do the right thing and was ignored, the disaster haunted him forever after that day as he continued to wonder if he could or should have done more. While he was unable to stop the tragedy from taking place, he was given prestigious awards from the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers for his efforts. Other than those scant accolades, Roger Boisjoly’s warnings were swept under the rug of history.
Rest in peace, Mr. Boisjoly. Hopefully the events on that cold January day will haunt you no more.