The memo was meant to jolt Morton Thiokol, the company that made the boosters and employed Mr. Boisjoly. The night before the Challenger’s liftoff, the temperature dipped below freezing. Unusual for Florida, the cold was unprecedented for a shuttle launching, and it prompted Mr. Boisjoly and other engineers to plead that the flight be postponed. Their bosses, under pressure from NASA, rejected the advice.
The shuttle exploded 73 seconds after launching, killing its seven crew members, including Christa McAuliffe, a high school teacher from Concord, N.H.Mr. Boisjoly’s memo was soon made public. He became widely known as a whistle-blower in a federal investigation of the disaster. And though he was hailed for his action by many, he was also made to suffer for it.On the night of Jan. 27, 1986, Mr. Boisjoly and four other Thiokol engineers used a teleconference with NASA to press the case for delaying the next day’s launching because of the cold. At one point, Mr. Boisjoly said, he slapped down photos showing the damage cold temperatures had caused to an earlier shuttle. It had lifted off on a cold day, but not this cold.
“How the hell can you ignore this?” he demanded. At first this seemed persuasive, according to commission testimony. Makers of critical components had the power to postpone flights.
Four Thiokol vice presidents, all engineers themselves, went offline to huddle. They later said that they had worried they lacked conclusive data to stop a launching that had already been postponed twice. They thought the naysayers might be operating on gut reaction, not science.
Jerry Mason, Thiokol’s general manager, told his fellow executives to take off their engineering hats and put on management hats. They told NASA it was a go.
The next morning Mr. Boisjoly watched the launching. If there was going to be a problem, he thought it would come at liftoff. As the shuttle cleared the tower, his prayers seemed answered.
“Thirteen seconds later,” Mr. Boisjoly said, “we saw it blow up.”
Mr. Boisjoly (pronounced like Beaujolais wine) died in Nephi, Utah, near Provo, on Jan. 6. He was 73. Besides his wife, the former Roberta Malcolm, he is survived by his daughters Norma Patterson and Darlene Richens; his brothers Ronald, Russell and Richard; and eight grandchildren.