Roger Boisjoly was an engineer who knew his business, working at a company called Morton Thiokol, which made solid rocket boosters for NASA – the kind that would help launch the space shuttles.
On the eve of the Challenger launch in January of 1986, Boisjoly argued passionately against allowing the mission to go forward in freezing weather. O-rings approved for that design, intended to keep flames isolated from some very explosive material, would not have the right sealant properties in cold weather. They would not work. He was overruled, the launch went forward, and became one of “the most expensive engineering miscalculations in history.”
Boisjoly was right.
After the investigations, congressional inquiries and, well, witch hunts were over, NASA and the industry proceeded to blackball Boisjoly, ruining his career. He went into retirement lecturing about engineering ethics and to some extent corporate bureaucracy.
Roger Boisjoly died at the age of 73. He had lived as an example of how broken corporate systems sometimes rally to defend the system instead of what is right. Sometimes engineers and scholars pay a cost for doing right. Boisjoly would likely be the first to tell you, do right anyway. RIP