Challenger Whistleblower Dies of Cancer

Roger Boisjoly, an aerospace engineer who warned that extreme cold temperatures could comprimise O-rings within the space shuttle's solid rocket boosters before the Challenger disaster has died of cancer. he was 73. Image Credit: NASA

If you mention the word “Challenger” and the first name out of the average person’s mouth will more-than-likely be “McAuliffe.” Few people will say “Roger Boisjoly.” Boisjoly was the Morton Thiokol (now ATK) aerospace engineer that warned about the severe cold conditions – and the impact that they could have on the O-rings in the space shuttle’s Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs). 

Boisjoly passed away on Jan. 6 after a battle with cancer. He warned of the danger of trying to launch with temperatures as low as those predicted to occur on Jan. 28, 1986. He was overruled. After the loss of Challenger and the resulting Rogers Commission Boisjoly found himself shunned by coworkers and he eventually resigned. 

Challenger’s final mission, STS-51L, was comprised of Commander Francis “Dick” Scobee, Pilot Michael J. Smith; Mission Specialists Ron McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnik and Christa McAuliffe as well as Payload Specialist Greg Jarvis. The mission lasted 73 seconds before super-hot gases emanating from one of the SRBs punctured the large, orange external tank causing the vehicle to explode.   

Although managers and employees at Morton Thiokol may have turned against him, Boisjoly will largely be remembered for his efforts to put shuttle crew safety ahead of launch schedules. After leaving Thiokol he become a speaker for workplace ethics and in 2010 he donated numerous notes ad papers that he had accumulated during his time with the aerospace firm to Chapman University in Orange, California – where it will be made available to the public.

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