Man who warned of Challenger disaster dies at 73

NEPHI, Utah — Roger Boisjoly, a NASA contractor who repeatedly voiced concerns about the space shuttle Challenger before it exploded, has died. He was 73.

Boisjoly died of cancer on Jan. 6 in southwest Utah, his wife Roberta Boisjoly said.

The 1986 Challenger tragedy shocked the nation. Seven astronauts, including a schoolteacher, were killed when the shuttle disintegrated 73 seconds after liftoff from Cape Canaveral, Fla.

Boisjoly, an engineer at rocket-builder Morton Thiokol Inc., warned in 1985 that seals on the booster rocket joints could fail in freezing temperatures.

“The result would be a catastrophe of the highest order — loss of human life,” he wrote in a memo.

On the eve of the ill-fated flight, Boisjoly and several colleagues reiterated their concerns and argued against launching because of predicted cold weather at the Kennedy Space Center. They were overruled by Morton Thiokol managers, who gave NASA the green light.

Slow-motion video of the launch showed a tongue of flame sprouting from one of the shuttle’s solid rocket boosters, licking the main fuel tank.

After the accident, Boisjoly testified to a presidential commission investigating the Challenger accident. The group determined that hot gases leaked through a joint in one of the booster rockets shortly after blastoff that ended with the explosion of the shuttle’s hydrogen fuel.

Boisjoly said he was shunned by colleagues and neighbors after emerging as a whistleblower. He took an extended leave of absence while Morton Thiokol worked on a redesign of the rocket joint.

“When I realized what was happening, it absolutely destroyed me,” Boisjoly told The Associated Press in a 1988 telephone interview. “It destroyed my career, my life, everything else. I’m just now getting back to the point where I think I’ll be able to work as an engineer again.”

Boisjoly toured the country and spoke about his experience. He received awards from the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers for trying to halt the Challenger launch.

Roberta Boisjoly said her husband continued to receive emails from students and others about his role.

“I’m very proud of what he did. It took a lot of courage,” she said. “That’s who he was. He would do it again.”

Roger Boisjoly was born on April 25, 1938, in Lowell, Mass. He received a degree in mechanical engineering from University of Lowell and was active in the Church of Jesus Christ of LatterDay Saints.

After 27 years as an aerospace engineer, Boisjoly launched his own business in forensic engineering and lectured at universities.

He is survived by his wife of 49 years, two daughters and eight grandchildren.

More in Local News

Man arrested after police find van full of drugs, cash and guns

An officer on patrol noticed a vehicle by itself in the middle of a WinCo parking lot at 2 a.m.

Jim Mathis, the Vietnam veteran whose Marysville garden was recently featured in The Herald, died Wednesday. Mathis, who suffered from PTSD and cancer, found solace in his beautiful garden. (Dan Bates / The Herald)
Vietnam veteran Jim Mathis found peace in his garden

The Marysville man who served two tours died Wednesday after suffering from cancer and PTSD.

Smith Island habitat restoration cost to rise $1.2 million

The project is intended to increase survival rates for juvenile chinook salmon.

Add deputies and bump taxes a bit, executive proposes

Dave Somers’ Snohomish County budget proposal also would address traffic problems in neighborhoods.

County councilman proposes banning safe injection sites

Nate Nehring says county officials also should find “credible, long-term solutions to addiction.”

Car crashes near Everett after State Patrol pursuit

The driver and a second person in the car suffered injuries.

They chose the longshot candidate to fill a vacant seat

Sultan Mayor Carolyn Eslick will serve as representative for the 39th legislative district.

Trump trying to turn around GOP holdouts on health bill

Arizona Sen. John McCain announced Friday that he would not vote for the proposal.

Ivory dealer gets prison after aiding smuggler’s prosecution

Man was charged in 2013 with smuggling and violating the Lacey Act.

Most Read