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Roger Boisjoly and the Challenger Disaster

Roger Boisjoly and the Challenger Disaster

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Roger Boisjoly and the Challenger Disaster

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  1. Roger Boisjoly and the Challenger Disaster Ethical lacking at NASA Jeremy Neill March 2, 2000

  2. Outline • Background of Challenger • Background of Roger Boisjoly • Events from 1977 – 1/28/86 • Different ethical choices • Events after the disaster

  3. History of Challenger • Second shuttle built • Designed for testing only • Later converted for actual missions • Nine successful launches • First (and last) mission in Teacher In Space Program

  4. Roger Boisjoly • 25+ years of experience before Challenger • Joined Morton Thiokol’s Solid Rocket Booster program in 1985 • Assigned as a Technical Troubleshooter • Member of various engineering and ethics societies

  5. First signs of trouble • 1977: Morton Thiokol first discovers joint rotation problem • Nov 1981: O-ring erosion discovered after second shuttle launch • Jan 1985: Worst case of O-ring erosion yet, on coldest launch yet

  6. Boisjoly’s role • Analyzed O-ring erosion on Jan 1985 flight • Presented findings to superiors and Marshall Space Flight Center • Presented findings to Flight Readiness Review Board for subsequent flight • Originally indicated erosion and blow by caused by low temperatures, but NASA asked for a softened position for Board

  7. Additional concerns • Analysis of April 1985 flight shows primary O-ring never sealed • Additional tests indicate a launch of 50 degrees or lower could result in failure • NASA asks Morton-Thiokol for booster seal problem presentation • Boisjoly presents similar info to SAE to get help. NASA orders it tuned down

  8. Pre-flight Teleconference • Meeting with KSC/MSFC on Jan 27 • Engineering team indicates launches below 53 degrees may have O-ring failure. “Prove it.” • Managers ask for offline discussion. “Take off your engineering hat.” Decide to launch anyway, temp predicted 18, actually hit 8 • NASA asks for further comments. Engineers stay silent

  9. Day of launch • Right O-ring at 28 degrees, ice on shuttle • Puffs of smoke at launch pad • Good luck: Blow-by causes oxidation glaze to fill gaps in O-ring seal • Bad luck: Worst wind sheer hits shuttle. Flex breaks glaze apart • Flames escape SRB and hit External Tank

  10. Ethical Implications • Supervisors clearly ignored problems • NASA downplayed problem 9 years • Could Boisjoly have done more? • Spoken up at end of teleconference? • Separately notified upper NASA management? • Leaked issue to press? • Still has to keep his job.

  11. Events since launch • O-ring design revised • Launch decision now made by astronaut • Boisjoly won Prize for Scientific Freedom and Responsibility from AAAS • Teachers In Space Program canceled

  12. Sources of more information • http://www.onlineethics.org/moral/boisjoly/RB-intro.html • http://www.fas.org/spp/51L.html • http://www.uoguelph.ca/~mgravell/ • http://ethics.tamu.edu/ethics/ethics/shuttle/shuttle1.htm • http://www.bowdoin.edu/dept/physics/astro.1998/astro15/ • http://www.ksc.nasa.gov/shuttle/resources/orbiters/challenger.html • http://catless.ncl.ac.uk/Risks/5.78.html

  13. Summary • NASA knew about O-ring issue • Boisjoly repeatedly urged the issue • Management ignored the advice of professional engineers • Space program set back several years • Some good changes at NASA resulted