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.
I wrote the following entry in my notebook after returning
to my office. "I sincerely hope that this launch does not
result in a catastrophe. I personally do not agree with some of
the statements made in Joe Kilminster's written summary stating
that SRM-25 is okay to fly."
As it turned out, I didn't agree with any of his statements
after I had a chance to review a copy of the chart. A review of
the chart will produce the following conclusions from anyone
having normal powers of reason. The chart lists nine separate
statements, seven of which are actually reasons against launch,
while one is actually a neutral statement of engineering fact.
The remaining statement concerning a factor of safety of three
on seal erosion is not even applicable to the discussion which
had ensued for over an hour. Therefore, Morton Thiokol senior
management reversed a sound technical decision without any
re-evaluation of the data they had promised when they requested
The next morning I paused outside Arnie Thompson's office
and told him and the manager of applied mechanics, who was my
boss, that I hoped the launch was safe, but I also hoped that
when we inspected the booster joints we would find all the
seals burned almost through the joint, then maybe we could get
someone with authority to stand up and stop the flights until
we fixed the joints.
It was approximately five minutes prior to the launch as I
was walking past the room used to view launches when Bob
Ebeling stepped out to encourage me to enter and watch the
launch. At first I refused, but he finally persuaded me to
watch the launch. The room was filled, so I seated myself on
the floor closest to the screen and leaned against Bob's legs
as he was seated in a chair. The boosters ignited, and as the
vehicle cleared the tower Bob whispered to me that we had just
dodged a bullet. At approximately T+60 seconds Bob told me that
he had just completed a prayer of thanks to the Lord for a
successful launch. Just 13 seconds later we both saw the horror
of destruction as the vehicle exploded. We all sat in stunned
silence for a short time, then I got up and left the room and
went directly to my office, where I remained the rest of the
day. Two of my seal task-team colleages inquired at my office
to see if I was okay, but I was unable to speak to them and
hold back my emotions so I just nodded yes to them and they
left after a short silent stay.
Roger Boisjoly made a number of choices in the months
leading up to the Challenger accident. He
consistently took an ethical course of action, often risking
his job. Nevertheless, he was unable to avert the January 28
launch. In 1988 Roger Boisjoly was given the American
Association for the Advancement of Science Award for Scientific
Freedom and Responsibility for his extensive and well conceived
efforts to avert the shuttle disaster.