We all know that one mom or dad that likes to show off their impressive whistling capablities at pee-wee sports games. Unfortunately, Roger Boisjoly’s whistle wasn’t that loud, impressive, or noticeable. Had the spectators at his big league event, the Morton Thiokol and NASA pre-launch teleconference, heeded the importance of his whistle, seven lives could have been saved. I write this blog with reverence for the seven astronauts aboard the Challenger space shuttle and their families.
What really caused the Challenger disaster? Well, literally speaking it was a gas leak that occured due to a weak O-ring seal which can be attributed to the low temperatures in Cape Canaveral. How does a project that requires intense risk assessment overlook something that seems so simple? Management chooses to. The Challenger explosion was the result of a choice made by managment within NASA and its contractor, Morton Thiokol, to overlook an issue brought to their attention by engineers. As evidence has shown, NASA was not unaware of the risks they were taking by launching the Challenger on an unusually cold day in Florida. Despite the persistence of engineers, including O-ring expert Roger Boisjoly, managers made the decision to approve a launch that put the lives of seven Americans at risk. I agree with Neil deGrasse Tyson’s explantion of the motivation for such an irrational decision. Tyson believes the Challenger mission was more of a promotional and propaganda and military tool than a platform for science. Sadly, I also believe NASA succumbed to political pressure and societal expectations when making their decision that led to the loss of human life.
I believe Roger Boisjoly was justified in his decision to release information about Challenger to the public. Boisjoly was careful in choosing appropriate channels to release his information and it seems as though he did not embellish the information. I would not describe his actions as “pointing the finger” because he stood up for what he believed in despite managerial pressures, so he has every right to blame those who were responsible for approving the launch. As far as the sensitivity of the information, I don’t think Boisjoly threatened national security or revealed anything confidential information. In fact, I believe the families of the Challenger astronauts deserved to know the truth about the cause of the accident. In that sense, I think Boisjoly’s decision was noble and brave which makes it very unfortunate that he suffered from the ramifications of exposing powerful people.
Morton Thiokol’s reaction to Boisjoly’s whistleblowing frustrates me to the point of wishing the upper management truly responsible for Challenger were prosecuted and received prison sentences. Mistreating an employee who spoke truthfully about an unethical decision made my his superiors is unacceptable. Boisjoly’s “living hell” at work was a result of embarrassed people with power punishing an honest individual. Now that more time has passed, I hope that all of Boisjoly’s fellow employees and neighbors who treated him with contempt are ashamed of their reactions. Their reaction is one of the most devastating parts of this entire incident because it could potentially deter honest employees from revealing dangerous unethical management practices in the future. As a result, brave Americans, such as the seven astronauts aboard Challenger, could become victims of a preventable tragedy.
While Boisjoly’s story does not have a happy ending, I think his commitment to the truth will inspire honest whistleblowers who’s information could be benefical. I hope that the actions of dishonest whistleblowers who seek attention does not tarnish the value of releasing suppressed truths. I wish there existed a term without such a negative connotation to describe Roger Boisjoly, but until then, consider me a defender of the honest whistleblower.