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NASA Science

Robert Boisjoly Dies At 73, the Engineer Who Tried To Stop the Challenger Launch 380

demachina writes "Robert Boisjoly has died at the age of 73. Boisjoly, Allan J. McDonald and three others argued through the night of 27 January, 1986 to stop the following day's Challenger launch, but Joseph Kilminster, their boss at Morton Thiokol, overruled them. NASA managers didn't listen to the engineers. Both Boisjoly and McDonald were blackballed for speaking out. NASA's mismanagement 'is not going to stop until somebody gets sent to hard rock hotel,' Boisjoly said after the 2003 Columbia disaster. '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.'"
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Robert Boisjoly Dies At 73, the Engineer Who Tried To Stop the Challenger Launch

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  • Get his name right! (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 08, 2012 @09:20AM (#38965563)

    It's *Roger* Boisjoly, like TFA says.

  • by Whalou ( 721698 ) on Wednesday February 08, 2012 @09:32AM (#38965665)
    He won the AAAS Award for Scientific Freedom and Responsibility in 1988.
  • Re:In perspective (Score:4, Informative)

    by Tastecicles ( 1153671 ) on Wednesday February 08, 2012 @09:53AM (#38965837)

    17 lives lost out of how many flown and returned safely? call it 881 (man-flights) as at midnight UTC 8 Feb 2012. Two lost shuttles from 134 launches. [source [kursknet.ru]]. I think you'll find NASA's safety record is by orders of magnitude worse than the auto industry, commercial airlines, rail, shipping (throughout history)... yet they repeatedly fail to listen to those who build and maintain the vehicles (Morton Thiokol and Rockwell International in the specific cases of Challenger and Columbia respectively) and push for mission efficiency at the cost of safety.

    If I remember the Challenger report correctly it was mentioned that the O-ring problem was not unique to STS-51L, it had occurred on previous flights and NASA were well aware of the effects of subzero temperatures on the compounds used. It took the destruction of Challenger for the issue to finally be addressed with a seal redesign, likewise with Columbia it took the destruction of that vehicle for NASA officials to recommend via the investigation report that the robotic arm, fitted with a high resolution camera, was to be used to inspect particularly the wing roots, but also the rest of the underbelly of the craft once it had reached orbit to check for damage incurred during launch. Why it had not been done previously was, among other things, the extra weight of a camera (which would have required another half ton or so of fuel to bring it into orbit) and the time incursion which would distract at least one crew member and the full employment of the remote arm for upward of a couple hours - but what price life, eh?

  • Re:In perspective (Score:2, Informative)

    by oh_my_080980980 ( 773867 ) on Wednesday February 08, 2012 @10:12AM (#38966033)
    You are a complete douche bag. These accidents could have been prevented. These lives could have been saved. When an engineer tells you that you have a problem and that lives are at risk it is your responsibility to stop. It's called process safety. Any corporation that has a safety culture understands that. Safety first.

    NASA has demonstrated an utter lack for safety.

    You have demonstrated an utter lack of knowledge on the subject.
  • Re:In perspective (Score:4, Informative)

    by ugglybabee ( 2435320 ) on Wednesday February 08, 2012 @10:42AM (#38966439)
    I remember that after Apollo 11, it was said that the American space program had cost 8 lives. The figure comes from a Time-Life audio documentary entitled "To the Moon" that I listened to dozens of times as a kid, and I feel absolutely certain that was the number used, though I don't know what that would refer to beyond Apollo 1 . That would bring the total for fifty years up to 23. Here's wikipedia's list of space program accidents, including non-fatalities and Russian accidents. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_spaceflight-related_accidents_and_incidents [wikipedia.org]
  • Re:In perspective (Score:4, Informative)

    by Registered Coward v2 ( 447531 ) on Wednesday February 08, 2012 @11:31AM (#38967115)

    I remember that after Apollo 11, it was said that the American space program had cost 8 lives. The figure comes from a Time-Life audio documentary entitled "To the Moon" that I listened to dozens of times as a kid, and I feel absolutely certain that was the number used, though I don't know what that would refer to beyond Apollo 1

    Several astronauts died in non-space flight related accidents - See and Barret in a trainer aircraft crash, for example, as others to bring the total to eight. Two were not NASA astronauts - one an X15 pilot and the other in the USAF MOL program. He would have been the first African American astronaut had he not been killed in a plane crash. Unfortunately, the MOL Program is largely forgotten.

  • by G3ckoG33k ( 647276 ) on Wednesday February 08, 2012 @11:49AM (#38967379)

    Because it was Larry Mulloy and Jerald Mason. From http://ethics.tamu.edu/ethics/shuttle/shuttle1.htm [tamu.edu]

    Marshall's Solid Rocket Booster Project Manager, Larry Mulloy, commented that the data was inconclusive and challenged the engineers' logic. A heated debate went on for several minutes before Mulloy bypassed Lund and asked Joe Kilminster for his opinion. Kilminster was in management, although he had an extensive engineering background. By bypassing the engineers, Mulloy was calling for a middle-management decision, but Kilminster stood by his engineers. Several other managers at Marshall expressed their doubts about the recommendations, and finally Kilminster asked for a meeting off of the net, so Thiokol could review its data. Boisjoly and Thompson tried to convince their senior managers to stay with their original decision not to launch. A senior executive at Thiokol, Jerald Mason, commented that a management decision was required. The managers seemed to believe the O-rings could be eroded up to one third of their diameter and still seat properly, regardless of the temperature. The data presented to them showed no correlation between temperature and the blow-by gasses which eroded the O-rings in previous missions. According to testimony by Kilminster and Boisjoly, Mason finally turned to Bob Lund and said, "Take off your engineering hat and put on your management hat." Joe Kilminster wrote out the new recommendation and went back on line with the teleconference. The new recommendation stated that the cold was still a safety concern, but their people had found that the original data was indeed inconclusive and their "engineering assessment" was that launch was recommended, even though the engineers had no part in writing the new recommendation and refused to sign it. Alan McDonald, who was present with NASA management in Florida, was surprised to see the recommendation to launch and appealed to NASA management not to launch. NASA managers decided to approve the boosters for launch despite the fact that the predicted launch temperature was outside of their operational specifications.

  • Re:Space is hard (Score:4, Informative)

    by blueg3 ( 192743 ) on Wednesday February 08, 2012 @12:18PM (#38967799)

    Note that this message didn't actually get to NASA. Morton Thiokol engineers told their management that they should delay the launch. The report from Morton Thiokol management to NASA, however, said that the launch should be no different from previous (successful) launches.

  • Re:In perspective (Score:4, Informative)

    by torgis ( 840592 ) on Wednesday February 08, 2012 @02:01PM (#38969277) Journal
    Ok, let's get technical then.

    The proof starts from the Peano Postulates, which define the natural
    numbers N. N is the smallest set satisfying these postulates:

    P1. 1 is in N.
    P2. If x is in N, then its "successor" x' is in N.
    P3. There is no x such that x' = 1.
    P4. If x isn't 1, then there is a y in N such that y' = x.
    P5. If S is a subset of N, 1 is in S, and the implication
    (x in S => x' in S) holds, then S = N.

    Then you have to define addition recursively:
    Def: Let a and b be in N. If b = 1, then define a + b = a'
    (using P1 and P2). If b isn't 1, then let c' = b, with c in N
    (using P4), and define a + b = (a + c)'.

    Then you have to define 2:
    Def: 2 = 1'

    2 is in N by P1, P2, and the definition of 2.

    Theorem: 1 + 1 = 2

    Proof: Use the first part of the definition of + with a = b = 1.
    Then 1 + 1 = 1' = 2 Q.E.D.

    Note: There is an alternate formulation of the Peano Postulates which
    replaces 1 with 0 in P1, P3, P4, and P5. Then you have to change the
    definition of addition to this:
    Def: Let a and b be in N. If b = 0, then define a + b = a.
    If b isn't 0, then let c' = b, with c in N, and define
    a + b = (a + c)'.

    You also have to define 1 = 0', and 2 = 1'. Then the proof of the
    Theorem above is a little different:

    Proof: Use the second part of the definition of + first:
    1 + 1 = (1 + 0)'
    Now use the first part of the definition of + on the sum in
    parentheses: 1 + 1 = (1)' = 1' = 2 Q.E.D.

    In purely mathematical terms, 1+1=2.
  • by Ellis D. Tripp ( 755736 ) on Wednesday February 08, 2012 @04:30PM (#38971635) Homepage

    Before you spout off about the ET insulation foam having been reformulated without CFCs, try reading the CAIB report (volume 1, Page 51), which specifically states that the portion of the foam that broke loose was the OLD CFC-based formulation.


    The story about the reformulated foam causing the Columbia accident is largely the doing of Rush Limbaugh, who seized on a lie from one of his typically ill-informed listeners, and kept repeating it until it became accepted as fact by everyone on the right.


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