by Roger M. Boisjoly
I met Richard Feynman during very tough personal circumstances while on the receiving end of questions during the investigation of the Challenger disaster. I was the principal engineer on the SRM joints and one of the Morton Thiokol (MTI) engineers who made the futile attempt to stop the launch. I felt it was my professional responsibility to expose the truth to the Presidential Commission on which Dr. Feynman was, in my opinion, the most personally and professionally objective member and I might add the ONLY fearless member concerning potential career damage.
As a result, he was told not to talk to engineers like me but that did not deter him from finding out the truth. After my closed door and public testimony to the Commission at which he always addressed me as Dr. Boisjoly, I received many personal calls from Dr. Feynman as he was seeking answers to questions. He started every phone call by addressing me as Dr. Boisjoly and I would tell him immediately that I did not have a Ph.D. and then the very next words from him were always Dr. Boisjoly I would like to ask for your help and I would comply. The calls would always end by Dr. Feynman thanking me for my explanation and a request to have me respond again to help him if he should have more questions and of course I always said yes. He called me both at work and at home after he asked me for permission to call my home.
One day during work at MTI, I received a personally inscribed book from Dr. Feynman titled, “Surely Your Joking, Mr. Feynman!” This is My Number One Personal Treasure because in addition to the phone calls, I had lunch with him in Washington, DC in May of 1986. Myself and Al McDonald had been asked to review and comment on the NASA official report on Challenger and we had only one day to complete the task. We were in a soup and sandwich line and we heard someone yell behind us stating, “hey guys, can I join you for lunch.” We looked back and it was Dr. Feynman running towards us and we invited him up to our position near the front of the line and what was planned to be only a 15 minute lunch turned out to be about a hour plus. Dr. Feynman kept Al and I in stitches laughing almost the whole time. My only regret after that lunch was that I had not taped the wonderful conversation we had with him that day but never the less, I do remember the humorous lunch we had.
My personal contact with Dr. Feynman made his books come alive for me because he was in person exactly like he was in the books. I wrote and presented a paper on the Challenger disaster in December 1987 and to this day have the highest regret that I did not send a copy of the paper to him because shortly after his minority report was published in, I believe, “Physics Today” he subsequently left us but not without a parting book, “What Do You Care What Other People Think?”
If anyone is interested in the only factual Challenger paper to date, go to http://onlineethics.org . While speaking at Cornell University in 1988, I met a former professor colleague of Dr. Feynman and after I related the story about being addressed as Dr. Boisjoly, he explained that Dr. Feynman had simply decided to give me his personal Honorary Dr. Degree because I had exposed the truth about Challenger to him and the public. Hearing this really made my day because I already held Dr. Feynman on the highest plane of respect as a person and as a scientist.
Thank you so much for creating this web site. You have done the world a very valuable service. Dr. Feynman may be gone from among us but his memory will never be forgotten by those of us whose life he has touched in some way.