Even though it was one of Jeff Bezos’ boyhood goals to travel to the moon, current and former workers of Blue Origin, the firm that brought him there, say the corporation is misogynistic and poisonous, and that it cares more about beating other billionaires than it does about real flight safety.
Almost two dozen individuals who have worked at Blue Origin have published a scathing article in which they characterize the company as a frightening workplace for both women and the people who are reliant on the second-richest man on the planet to get them to and from space in one piece. Beyond noting that Blue Origin’s workforce of more than 3,600 people is “overwhelmingly male and mostly white,” and that “100 percent of the top technical and program leaders are males,” the authors argue that many senior executives have a “clear prejudice towards women.”
In one case, a former NASA astronaut and senior Blue Origin employee is accused of telling a group of women with whom he was working, “You should seek my perspective because I am a male.” While men’s worries about the New Shepard were reportedly taken into consideration, women were reportedly “demeaned for raising them.” Specifically, according to the authors:
When one man was let go for poor performance, he was allowed to leave with dignity, even a going-away party. Yet when a woman leader who had significantly improved her department’s performance was let go, she was ordered to leave immediately, with security hovering until she exited the building five minutes later.
A former Executive was also singled out for being “often rude and disrespectful to women,” referring to them as “baby girl,” “baby doll,” or “sweetheart,” and inquiring about their dating life. Read the whole article here. He was in charge of hiring new workers, and several female colleagues “took to warning new female hires to keep away from him, even while he was in charge of recruiting people,” according to the report. A strong personal connection with Bezos seemed to shield him, and it required his physically touching a female colleague for him to ultimately be fired.
Elsewhere, there’s this revolting anecdote, per The Washington Post:
One person who was not a signatory to the blog post said in an interview that she once was in a meeting with [then vice president of recruiting Walt] McCleery and executives from an outside company when McCleery turned to the executives and said: “I apologize for [her] being emotional. It must be her time of the month.”
The comment “was tough for me,” she said. “It was embarrassing and awkward.” She said she had to quit her job there “because I couldn’t take it anymore.”
According to the Post, Blue Origin engaged the legal firm Perkins Coie to examine McCleery’s behavior, which resulted in the conclusion that his behavior was improper, which business executives verified by stating that he had been fired. (In an interview, McCleery categorically rejected the accusations, stating, “Not true as far as I’m concerned.” No additional observations.” “I’m at a loss for words.” On the subject of his departure from Blue Origin, he said, “It doesn’t matter what caused the termination of my relationship with them. That is strictly confidential. And that’s the information I have.”)
The authors of the article, in addition to leveling sexist allegations, also make some really frightening claims regarding flight safety, alleging that the department’s leadership is negligent in this regard:
This suppression of dissent brings us to the matter of safety, which for many of us is the driving force for coming forward with this essay. At Blue Origin, a common question during high-level meetings was, “When will Elon [Musk] or [Richard] Branson fly?” Competing with other billionaires—and “making progress for Jeff”—seemed to take precedence over safety concerns that would have slowed down the schedule.
In 2020, company leaders demonstrated increasing impatience with New Shepard’s schedule of a few flights per year; their goal, routinely communicated to operations and maintenance staff, was to scale to more than 40. Some of us felt that with the resources and staff available, leadership’s race to launch at such a breakneck speed was seriously compromising flight safety. When Challenger exploded, the government’s investigation determined that the push to keep to a schedule of 24 flights per year “directly contributed to unsafe launch operations.” Of note: The Challenger report also cited internal stifling of differences of opinion as one of the organizational issues that led to the disaster and loss of life.
We have seen a pattern of decision-making that often prioritizes execution speed and cost reduction over the appropriate resourcing to ensure quality. In 2018, when one team lead took over, the team had documented more than 1,000 problem reports related to the engines that power Blue Origin’s rockets, which had never been addressed. Many of us see history repeating itself. Should we allow commercial entities intent on flying an increasing number of people to space to make the same errors and accountability oversights that led to past disasters? NASA, as a civilian agency, is accountable to the public. Blue Origin, a private company, is not.
According to one of the engineers who signed the article, “Blue Origin has been fortunate in that nothing has occurred so far.” Many of the writers of the essay express their fear about flying on a Blue Origin plane, which is frightening. “And it’s no surprise,” they write. “We have all seen how often teams are pushed beyond their realistic capabilities. When it came to operating and maintaining one of New Shepard’s subsystems in 2019, the crew was comprised of just a few engineers who worked long hours. It was felt that their duties extended well beyond what could be handled by a crew twice their size, and included everything from researching the underlying cause of failures to doing routine preventive maintenance on the rocket’s systems.”
Alexandra Abrams, the former director of employee communications at Blue Origin and the author of an article that was published under her name, stated on CBS Mornings that “you cannot build a culture of safety and a culture of fear at the same time.” “They are incompatible with one another.”
Blue Origin replied to the accusations with the following statement: “Ms. Abrams was terminated for cause two years ago after receiving numerous warnings for problems concerning federal export control rules.” Discrimination and harassment of any sort are not tolerated at Blue Origin under any circumstances. We offer many channels for workers to report misbehavior, including a 24/7 anonymous hotline, and we will examine any new allegations of misconduct as soon as they are received. The safety record of New Shepard is unquestionable, and we think it is the safest space spacecraft ever conceived or constructed.”
The New Shepard’s next planned launch is set on October 12, according to schedule.