NASA insider talks tragedy at Marquette

Tim Horneman

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.

Email This Story

Boisjoly was a technical troubleshooter for Morton Thiokol, a company hired by NASA to make rocket boosters for space shuttles. After showing the famous video of the Jan. 28, 1986 Challenger explosion, Boisjoly explained how he had become convinced that there was a serious problem in the rocket boosters his company was making.

Several years before the accident, Boisjoly had expressed his concerns that a sealer in a field joint, a portion of a rocket booster, was doomed to fail and cause a catastrophic loss. He showed the audience a sample joint and explained how dangerous heated gases could pass through the joint and cause an explosion which would destroy a shuttle. Despite his concerns, the joint continued to be used in missions.

Shortly before the launch of the Challenger, Morton Thiokol was contacted by an employee at NASA, who was worried about the safety about

the launch, Boisjoly said. His group made a presentation expressing their concerns about the safety of space shuttles and recommended that the launch of the Challenger be canceled. Boisjoly thought that the issue was resolved, but soon learned otherwise when an emergency caucus of Morton Thiokol leaders was quickly called.

“If Morton Thiokol didn’t feel any pressure and NASA didn’t create any pressure (to approve the launch), why was there a caucus?” Boisjoly said.

He said he was stunned to learn that after the caucus, Morton Thiokol had bowed to pressure, changed its opinion and approved the launch.

“I was very disillusioned and very angry at this point,” Boisjoly said.

The next day, the Challenger exploded and killed seven astronauts, due to the problems in the field joint.

Boisjoly then became a whistleblower, pointing out the problems that led to the Challenger explosion. He said he was subjected by members of Morton Thiokol to mental anguish for this , which eventually led to post-traumatic stress disorder, and quitting his job.

Soon after, Boisjoly founded his own company and began giving lectures on ethics.

The lessons were simple but very difficult to follow, he said.

“I believe that we as professionals should follow the Golden Rule,” Boisjoly said. He described what he believed were the three choices in this kind of dilemma: exiting the dilemma, being a voice for right or choosing blind loyalty over the right thing.

“I chose to be the voice,” Boisjoly said. Later he said he “would do it again in a heartbeat.”

Senior Amy Dorado said she was impressed and moved by the speech.

“I thought (Boisjoly) was quite impactful,” she said. “To know that these sorts of things happen is disturbing.”

“The idea of the Simmons Lecture is to invite a distinguished figure who was confronted with severe ethical issues, and Roger Boisjoly was such a

person,” said William Starr, assistant chair of the philosophy department and interim director of the Center for Ethics Studies. “I thought (his speech) was very, very good on two levels — first, he explained what happened (to him), and he also gave sound, practical advice for Marquette students.”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email