Roger Boisjoly had over a quarter-century's experience in the aerospace industry in 1985 when he became involved in an improvement effort on the O-rings which connect segments of Morton Thiokol's Solid Rocket Booster, used to bring the Space Shuttle into orbit. Boisjoly has spent his entire career making well-informed decisions based on his understanding of and belief in a professional engineer's rights and responsibilities. For his honesty and integrity leading up to and directly following the shuttle disaster, Roger Boisjoly was awarded the Prize for Scientific Freedom and Responsibility by...
Roger Boisjoly had over a quarter-century's experience in the aerospace industry in 1985 when he became involved in an improvement effort on the O-rings which connect segments of Morton Thiokol's Solid Rocket Booster, used to bring the Space Shuttle into orbit. Boisjoly has spent his entire career making well-informed decisions based on his understanding of and belief in a professional engineer's rights and responsibilities. For his honesty and integrity leading up to and directly following the shuttle disaster, Roger Boisjoly was awarded the Prize for Scientific Freedom and Responsibility by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Mr. Boisjoly died of cancer in St. George, Utah on Jan. 6, 2012. He spent his final years offering workshops and lectures on changing workplace ethics for numerous universities and civic groups.
For more information see this rememberance on NPR.
January 28, 1986. Two video clips of the Challenger Explosion from CNN: "Reagan honors shuttle crew (1986)" and "NASA remembers Challenger".
In January of 1987, nearly a full year after the Challenger exploded, Roger Boisjoly spoke at MIT about his attempts to avert the disaster during the year preceding the Challenger launch. According to the Report of the Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident, "evidence pointed to the right solid rocket booster as the source of the accident." In 1985 Boisjoly began work to improve the O-ring seals which connect segments of Morton Thiokol's solid rocket booster. Boisjoly was frustrated with the slow progress and the lack of management attention to the seal task force. He spoke about the events leading up to the disaster in this address.
Boisjoly's discussion of the Challenger Disaster is separated into seven sections. Each section is then followed by some possible responses. To see discussion of any response, click on the link to it. Supporting material is also provided. You may want to consult some of it in deciding what you would have done in Roger Boisjoly's place at each stage of the story.
This page and supporting pages were originally created by Jagruti S. Patel and Phil Sarin.
Roger Boisjoly presented this material first in a talk in January 1987 at MIT. The first publication was in the volume of conference papers for the 1987 Annual Meetings of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers in fall 1987.
Boisjoly, Roger M. 1987.
Ethical Decisions -- Morton Thiokol and the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster.
American Society of Mechanical Engineers Annual Meetings.
Texto en Español
My notebook entry on August 15, 1985, reads as follows: "An attempt to form the team (referring to the Solid Rocket Motor seal erosion team) was made on 19 July 1985. This attempt virtually failed and resulted in my writing memo 2870:FY86:073. This memo finally got some response and a team was formed officially. The first meeting was held on August 15, 1985 at 2:30 pm." The memo referred to is the one I read to the Presidential Commission on February 25, 1986, which was written to the vice president of engineering at Morton Thiokol on July 31, 1985. The memo ended by saying, "It is my honest and very real fear that if we do not take immediate action to dedicate a team to solve the problem, with the field joint having the number one priority, then we stand in jeopardy of losing a flight along with all the launch pad facilities."
During this July period, NASA headquarters in Washington D.C. asked Morton Thiokol to prepare a presentation on the problems with all the booster seals. The presentation was prepared by MSFC on August 19, 1985, with Morton Thiokol personnel in attendance.
Morton Thiokol was then asked by MSFC in September to send a representative to the SAE conference in October to discuss the seals and solicit help from the experts. I prepared and presented a six-page overview of the joints and the seal configuration to approximately 130 technical experts on October 7, 1985. However, I was given strict instructions, which came from NASA, not to express the critical urgency of fixing the joint but only to emphasize the joint improvement aspect during my presentation.
NASA once again wanted the seal task force team to soften the urgency of the O-ring problem. If the word leaked that there existed a major malfunction in the solid rocket booster, Congress would likely lose even more faith in the Shuttle program. No cold weather launches were scheduled for the near future. Should Boisjoly continue to listen to NASA and play down the importance of the problem? Which of the following are good things to do in this situation?