Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Deceased--Roger Boisjoly

Roger Boisjoly
April 25th, 1938 to January 6th, 2012

Roger Boisjoly examines a model of the space shuttle's o-rings in 1991. On the night before the tragic Challenger launch, he and others argued that o-rings in the joints of the shuttle's boosters would fail in the cold-weather. Their warnings went unheeded. (Associated Press / September 1, 1991)

"Roger Boisjoly dies at 73; engineer tried to halt Challenger launch"

The night before the 1986 explosion, Boisjoly and four others argued that joints in the shuttle's boosters couldn't withstand a cold-weather launch.

by Ralph


February 7th, 2012

Los Angeles Times

The 1986 explosion that destroyed the space shuttle Challenger and killed seven astronauts shocked the nation, but for one rocket engineer the tragedy became a personal burden and created a lifelong quest to challenge the bureaucratic ethics that had caused the tragedy.

Roger Boisjoly was an engineer at solid rocket booster manufacturer Morton Thiokol and had begun warning as early as 1985 that the joints in the boosters could fail in cold weather, leading to a catastrophic failure of the casing. Then on the eve of the Jan. 28, 1986, launch, Boisjoly and four other space shuttle engineers argued late into the night against the launch.

In cold temperatures, o-rings in the joints might not seal, they said, and could allow flames to reach the rocket's metal casing. Their pleas and technical theories were rejected by senior managers at the company and NASA, who told them they had failed to prove their case and that the shuttle would be launched in freezing temperatures the next morning. It was among the great engineering miscalculations in history.

A little more than a minute after launch, flames shot out of the booster joint, melted through the nearby hydrogen fuel tank and ignited a fireball that was watched by the astronauts' families and much of the nation on television. Boisjoly could not watch the launch, so certain was he that the shuttle would blow up. In the months and years that followed, the disaster changed his career and permanently poisoned his view that NASA could be trusted to make the right decisions when matters came to life and death.

Boisjoly, 73, died of cancer Jan. 6 in Nephi, Utah, though news of his passing was known only in the southwest Utah community where he retired.

The Challenger disaster and the resulting investigation pulled back the curtain on NASA's internal culture, revealing a bureaucracy that had made safety secondary to its launch objectives and to the political support it needed to continue the shuttle program.

"It was the end of the dream," said John Pike, executive director of GlobalSecurity.org and a longtime analyst of U.S. aerospace. "Before the Challenger, you could think about the idea of going boldly where no one had gone before. The accident ended it."

Boisjoly was not the only engineer who attempted to stop the launch and suffered for blowing the whistle. Allan J. McDonald was Thiokol's program manager for the solid rocket booster and became the most important critic of the accident afterward. When he was pressed by NASA the night before the liftoff to sign a written recommendation approving the launch, he refused, and later argued late into the night for a launch cancellation. When McDonald later disclosed the secret debate to accident investigators, he was isolated and his career destroyed.

The tragedy was particularly hard on Boisjoly, who would sometimes chop wood in the Utah winter to work out his anger. In a 2003 interview with The Times, he recalled that NASA tried to blackball him from the industry, leaving him to spend 17 years as a forensic engineer and a lecturer on engineering ethics.

When the space shuttle Columbia burned up on reentry in 2003, killing its crew of seven, the accident was blamed on the same kinds of management failures that occurred with the Challenger. By that time, Boisjoly believed that NASA was beyond reform, some of its officials should be indicted on manslaughter charges and the agency abolished.

NASA's mismanagement "is not going to stop until somebody gets sent to hard rock hotel," Boisjoly said. "I don't care how many commissions you have. These guys have a way of numbing their brains. They have destroyed $5 billion worth of hardware and 14 lives because of their nonsense."

Boisjoly was born April 25, 1938, and raised in Lowell, Mass., where he graduated from the University of Massachusetts Lowell with a degree in mechanical engineering.

He is survived by his wife of 49 years, Roberta; daughters Norma Patterson and Darleen Richens, eight grandchildren and three brothers.

"Roger Boisjoly, 73, Dies; Warned of Shuttle Danger"


Douglas Martin

February 3rd, 2012

The New York Times

Six months before the space shuttle Challenger exploded over Florida on Jan. 28, 1986, Roger Boisjoly wrote a portentous memo. He warned that if the weather was too cold, seals connecting sections of the shuttle’s huge rocket boosters could fail.

“The result could be a catastrophe of the highest order, loss of human life,” he wrote.

The memo was meant to jolt Morton Thiokol, the company that made the boosters and employed Mr. Boisjoly. In July 1985, a task force had been formed, partly on Mr. Boisjoly’s recommendation, to examine the effect of cold on the boosters. The effort, however, had become mired in paperwork, procurement delays and a rush to launch the shuttle, according to later investigations.

Meanwhile, his apprehensions only grew. The night before the Challenger’s liftoff, the temperature dipped below freezing. Unusual for Florida, the cold was unprecedented for a shuttle launching, and it prompted Mr. Boisjoly and other engineers to plead that the flight be postponed. Their bosses, under pressure from NASA, rejected the advice.

The shuttle exploded 73 seconds after launching, killing its seven crew members, including Christa McAuliffe, a high school teacher from Concord, N.H.

Mr. Boisjoly’s memo was soon made public. He became widely known as a whistle-blower in a federal investigation of the disaster. And though he was hailed for his action by many, he was also made to suffer for it.

Mr. Boisjoly (pronounced like Beaujolais wine) died in Nephi, Utah, near Provo, on Jan. 6. He was 73. His death was reported only locally at the time. He lived in southwest Utah, in St. George. His wife, Roberta, said he recently learned he had cancer in his colon, kidneys and liver.

Until the Challenger disaster, Mr. Boisjoly was known in his field as a crackerjack troubleshooter who had worked for companies in California on lunar module life-support systems and the moon vehicle. In 1980, he accepted a cut in pay to move with his family to Utah to deepen his involvement in the Mormon religion and to join Morton Thiokol.

After the Challenger explosion, Mr. Boisjoly gave a presidential commission investigating the disaster internal corporate documents. His disclosure of the internal memo he had written six months before the disaster was regarded as a bombshell.

Mr. Boisjoly was awarded the Prize for Scientific Freedom and Responsibility by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and spoke to more than 300 universities and civic groups about corporate ethics. He became sought after as an expert in forensic engineering.

But before then he had paid the stiff price often exacted of whistle-blowers. Thiokol cut him off from space work, and he was shunned by colleagues and managers. A former friend warned him, “If you wreck this company, I’m going to put my kids on your doorstep,” Mr. Boisjoly told The Los Angeles Times in 1987.

He had headaches, double-vision and depression, he said. He yelled at his dog and his daughters and skipped church to avoid people. He filed two suits against Thiokol; both were dismissed.

He later said he was sustained by a single gesture of support. Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, hugged him after his appearance before the commission.

“She was the only one,” he said in a whisper to a Newsday reporter in 1988. “The only one.”

Roger Mark Boisjoly was born in Lowell, Mass., on April 25, 1938, and earned a mechanical engineering degree from the University of Massachusetts at Lowell.

Besides his wife, the former Roberta Malcolm, he is survived by his daughters Norma Patterson and Darlene Richens; his brothers Ronald, Russell and Richard; and eight grandchildren.

Mr. Boisjoly worked for 27 years in the aerospace industry. But it was one night and one moment that stood out. On the night of Jan. 27, 1986, Mr. Boisjoly and four other Thiokol engineers used a teleconference with NASA to press the case for delaying the next day’s launching because of the cold. At one point, Mr. Boisjoly said, he slapped down photos showing the damage cold temperatures had caused to an earlier shuttle. It had lifted off on a cold day, but not this cold.

“How the hell can you ignore this?” he demanded. At first this seemed persuasive, according to commission testimony. Makers of critical components had the power to postpone flights.

Four Thiokol vice presidents, all engineers themselves, went offline to huddle. They later said that they had worried they lacked conclusive data to stop a launching that had already been postponed twice. They thought the naysayers might be operating on gut reaction, not science.

Jerry Mason, Thiokol’s general manager, told his fellow executives to take off their engineering hats and put on management hats. They told NASA it was a go.

The next morning Mr. Boisjoly watched the launching. If there was going to be a problem, he thought it would come at liftoff. As the shuttle cleared the tower, his prayers seemed answered.

“Thirteen seconds later,” Mr. Boisjoly said, “we saw it blow up.”

Roger Boisjoly [Wikipedia]

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