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Roger Boisjoly-The Challenger Disaster



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Year 1987
Language English

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Discovering Leaks in the Primary Seal

Texto en Español

The significance of January 1985 as the starting point results from the observations made during the post-flight hardware inspection of Flight 51C. During this inspection I found evidence that hot combustion gases had compromised the primary seals on two field joints. My concern heightened as a result of the large amount of blackened grease I observed between the two seals. Subsequent to reporting the findings to my superiors, I was asked to proceed to the Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) in Huntsville, Alabama, to brief them with a preliminary viewgraph presentation which included my observations and an explanation of the scenarios that caused the seal erosion and hot gas blow-by.

Morton Thiokol was then asked to prepare a detailed presentation as part of the Flight Readiness Review for Flight 51E, which was scheduled for launch in April 1985. This presentation was given in February at three successively higher-level review boards with refinements in contents made at each level. I presented my belief that the lower-than-usual launch temperature was responsible for such a large witness of hot gas blow-by, but NASA management insisted that this position be softened for the final review board.

Discussion Questions

What is the problem confronting Boisjoly here? The shuttle is already behind schedule, and the leaks in the primary seal in Flight 51C in January 1985 occurred during the worst temperature change in Florida history -- hardly everyday conditions. Which of the following actions would be appropriate to take at this point?

Cite this page: "Discovering Leaks in the Primary Seal" Online Ethics Center for Engineering 5/19/2006 OEC Accessed: Thursday, July 18, 2019 <>