Not because they are easy, but because they are hard

All the fuss over Newt Gingrich’s plans for the moon glosses over the fact that ambitious endeavors don’t just happen because a politician wishes them so; they require the heroic efforts of thousands to tens of thousands of technicians, scientists and engineers.

Twenty-six years ago today, seven of those heroes lost their lives in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. Almost six months to the day before that tragedy, Roger Boisjoly, an engineer and employee of Morton Thiokol, the company that manufactured the shuttle’s solid rocket boosters, made a heroic effort to prevent it. This morning, Letters of Note tweeted the interoffice memo he sent to the company’s Vice President warning of the now infamous O-ring failure:
“This letter is written to insure that management is fully aware of the seriousness of the current O-ring erosion problem in the SRM joints from an engineering standpoint.

The mistakenly accepted position on the joint problem was to fly without fear of failure and to run a series of design evaluations which would ultimately lead to a solution or at least a significant reduction of the erosion problem. This position is now drastically changed as a result of the SRM 16A nozzle joint erosion which eroded a secondary O-ring with the primary O-ring never sealing.

If the same scenario should occur in a field joint (and it could), then it is a jump ball as to the success or failure of the joint because the secondary O-ring cannot respond to the clevis opening rate and may not be capable of pressurization. The result would be a catastrophe of the highest order - loss of human life.”

Despite these and other warnings, executives at Morton Thiokol did not stop the Challenger launch and the predicted catastrophe did occur. Even so, I think we should all be inspired by Mr. Boisjoly’s efforts to make his voice heard and to ensure the safety of those he was helping to leave our home planet.

Sadly, Mr. Boisjoly passed earlier this month, but just under two years ago he gave his person archive of papers, memos, and notes from his work at Morton Thiokol and his Congressional testimony on the Challenger disaster to Chapman University in Orange, California. Road trip, anyone?

Cross-posted from Newtonianism for the Ladies.


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Not because they are easy, but because they are hard