Nearly two dozen Blue Origin employees have accused Amazon boss Jeff Bezos of creating a ‘toxic’ work environment where the company sacrificed safety to work at ‘breakneck speed’ in order to win the billionaire space race.
In an essay published on Thursday, Alexandra Abrams, the former head of Blue Origin Employee Communications, along with 20 employees said the priority was to ‘make progress for Jeff’ as he competed with Elon Musk and Richard Branson to make it to space first.
They claimed that the most common question at high-level meetings was: ‘When will Elon or Branson fly?’ and safety concerns were ignored because they would have ‘slowed progress’.
‘Progress at Blue Origin was smooth and steady and slow, until Jeff started getting impatient that Elon and Branson were getting ahead, and then we started feeling this increasing pressure and impatience that would filter down from leadership,’ Abrams told CBS Mornings on Thursday.
Ultimately, Branson flew to the edge of space first, on July 11 – nine days ahead of Bezos. Musk, who leads SpaceX, has not flown into space himself, but his company sent four civilians into space on September 15, flying 360 miles above the Earth.
The essay is the latest blow to Bezos and Blue Origin, who has filed a lawsuit against NASA over its decision to only award Musk’s SpaceX the contract to build a lunar lander.
In leaked documents, NASA blasted Blue Origin over Bezos’ decision to take the space agency to court.
The U.S. space agency believes Blue Origin seeks to ‘prioritize its own fortunes over that of NASA, the United States, and every person alive today’.
Blue Origin is suing NASA due to the space agency opting to only give SpaceX a contract to build a lunar lander for upcoming missions to the Moon.
Musk commented on the Blue Origin lawsuit on Wednesday, telling CNBC reporter the company is ‘suing to stop competition,’ whereas SpaceX has sued to be ‘allowed to compete.’
NASA argued in legal filings that Blue Origin is jeopardizing its attempts to send its first crewed mission to the Moon since 1972 as part of NASA’s Artemis program, potentially by hurting it financially with the court case.
In the aforementioned essay, the employees said they felt ‘unease’ when Bezos blasted into space with three other civilians on an unpiloted rocket, with some unable to watch the event. Most said that with their concerns over safety, they would not fly in Blue Origin rockets at all.
Nearly two dozen Blue Origin employees have accused Jeff Bezos of creating a ‘toxic’ work environment where the company sacrificed safety in order to win the billionaire space race. On July 20, Bezos, along with his brother, Dutch teenager Oliver Daemen , test pilot, Wally Funk, and his brother Mark headed into space – nine days after Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson
In an essay, Alexandra Abrams, the former head of Blue Origin Employee Communications, along with 20 employees said the priority was to ‘make progress for Jeff’ as he competed with Elon Musk and Richard Branson to make it to space first. On Thursday, Abrams said: ‘Progress at Blue Origin was smooth and steady and slow, until Jeff started getting impatient that Elon and Branson were getting ahead, and then we started feeling this increasing pressure and impatience that would filter down from leadership’
Ultimately, Richard Branson flew to the edge of space first, on July 11 – nine days ahead of Bezos. Elon Musk, who leads SpaceX, has not flown into space himself, but his company sent four civilians into space on September 15, flying 360 miles above the Earth
At least 13 of the 21 signees to the essay were engineers at the company, who said that staying on schedule trumped safety. One engineer said that ‘Blue Origin has been lucky that nothing has happened so far’.
In the essay, the group noted that in 2018 a team had documented more than 1,000 problem reports related to the engines that power Blue Origin’s rockets, which had never been addressed.
They noted that they were concerned they were seeing ‘history repeating itself’, referring to the Challenger disaster.
‘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,’ the group noted.
The essay is the latest blow to Bezos and Blue Origin, who has filed a lawsuit against NASA over its decision to only award Musk’s SpaceX the contract to build a lunar lander
Other concerns included engineers working long hours, more than was reasonable or manageable, and the group claimed that requests by for additional engineers, staff, or spending were frequently denied, ‘despite the fact that Blue Origin has one of the largest single sources of private funding on Earth’.
They added that they were often told to ‘be careful with Jeff’s money,’ to ‘not ask for more,’ and to ‘be grateful.’
Abrams said on Thursday morning that ‘you cannot create a culture of safety and a culture of fear at the same time. They are incompatible.
‘Oftentimes when I tried to reconcile what I was hearing from engineers close to the vehicle versus leadership, I would often go to leadership … and often the response would be to say that the person [engineer] does not have a high enough risk tolerance.’
Abrams added that if she were to face Bezos she would tell him that she ‘really wished he was the person we thought he was, and that Blue Origin was the company we all thought it was going to be.’
The group sent the essay to the FAA ahead of its publication on Thursday morning.
‘The FAA takes every safety allegation seriously, and the agency is reviewing the information,’ a spokesman for the agency told DailyMail.com in an email.
In the essay, the group further claimed that workforce gender gaps resulted in a ‘particular brand of sexism,’ where senior leaders, including one in CEO Bob Smith’s (pictured with Bezos) inner circle, were ‘consistently inappropriate with women’
The employees said they felt ‘unease’ when Bezos blasted into space, with some unable to watch the event at all. Most said that with their concerns over safety, they would not fly in Blue Origin rockets at all
In the essay, the group further claimed that workforce gender gaps resulted in a ‘particular brand of sexism,’ where senior leaders, including one in CEO Bob Smith’s inner circle, were ‘consistently inappropriate with women.’
The senior leader was was reported to HR multiple times for sexual harassment, but Smith allegedly made this person a member of the hiring committee for filling a senior HR role in 2019, and no action was taken against him.
Another person called women ‘baby girl,’ ‘baby doll,’ or ‘sweetheart’ and asked about dating lives.
The essay also cites a former NASA astronaut and Blue Origin ‘senior leader’ who told women he was working with they should ask his opinion ‘because I am a man.’
‘We found many company leaders to be unapproachable and showing clear bias against women,’ the essay reads.
‘Concerns related to flying were consistently shut down, and women were demeaned for raising them.
‘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.’
Many of the essay’s authors wrote the company never considered environmental impacts of the company’s operations until the last minute, citing the company’s headquarters in Kent, Washington that was ‘built on wetlands that were drained for construction
The essay notes that the toxic culture has taken a toll on the mental health of many employees, including some who have ‘experienced periods of suicidal thoughts.’
‘Former and current employees have had experiences they could only describe as dehumanizing, and are terrified of the potential consequences for speaking out against the wealthiest man on the planet,’ the essay reads.
‘One senior program leader with decades in the aerospace and defense industry said working at Blue Origin was the worst experience of her life.’
A Blue Origin spokesman told DailyMail.com in an email: ‘Ms. Abrams was dismissed for cause two years ago after repeated warnings for issues involving federal export control regulations.
‘Blue Origin has no tolerance for discrimination or harassment of any kind. We provide numerous avenues for employees, including a 24/7 anonymous hotline, and will promptly investigate any new claims of misconduct. We stand by our safety record and believe that New Shepard is the safest space vehicle ever designed or built.’
Many of the essay’s authors wrote the company never considered environmental impacts of the company’s operations until the last minute, citing the company’s headquarters in Kent, Washington that was ‘built on wetlands that were drained for construction.’
‘All of us joined Blue Origin eager to innovate and to open access to space for the benefit of humanity,’ the essay reads. ‘We believe exploring the possibilities for human civilization beyond Earth is a necessity.
‘But if this company’s culture and work environment are a template for the future Jeff Bezos envisions, we are headed in a direction that reflects the worst of the world we live in now, and sorely needs to change.’
On July 20, Bezos, along with his brother, Mark, Dutch teenager Oliver Daemen and test pilot, Wally Funk, headed into space.
Funk became the oldest person to ever fly to space at 82 years old.
At 18 years old, Daemen became the youngest person, first teenager, and first person born in the 21st century to travel to space.
Earlier this week, Blue Origin announced its second space mission, scheduled for October 12.
Dr Chris Boshuizen, co-founder of Planet Labs and partner at venture capital firm DCVC and Medidata co-founder Glen de Vries into space on the New Shepard rocket.
In an email obtained by DailyMail.com, the company said the other two astronauts would be announced ‘in the coming days,’ though speculation rose last week when legendary Star Trek actor William Shatner was reported to join the crew.
THE BILLIONAIRE SPACE RACE: HOW BRANSON, MUSK AND BEZOS ARE VYING FOR GALACTIC SUPREMACY
Jeff Bezos in front of Blue Origin’s space capsule
Dubbed the ‘NewSpace’ set, Jeff Bezos, Sir Richard Branson and Elon Musk all say they were inspired by the first moon landing in 1969, when the US beat the Soviet Union in the space race, and there is no doubt how much it would mean to each of them to win the ‘new space race’.
Amazon founder Bezos had looked set to be the first of the three to fly to space, having announced plans to launch aboard his space company Blue Origin’s New Shepard spacecraft on July 20, but Branson beat him to the punch.
The British billionaire became Virgin Galactic Astronaut 001 when he made it to space on a suborbital flight nine days before Bezos – on July 11 in a test flight.
Bezos travelled to space on July 20 with his younger brother Mark, Oliver Daemen, an 18-year-old physics student whose dad purchased his ticket, and pioneering female astronaut Wally Funk, 82.
Although SpaceX and Tesla founder Musk has said he wants to go into space, and even ‘die on Mars’, he has not said when he might blast into orbit – but has purchased a ticket with Virgin Galactic for a suborbital flight.
SpaceX became the first of the ‘space tourism’ operators to send a fully civilian crew into orbit, with the Inspiration4 mission funded by billionaire Jared Isaacman.
His flight was on a Dragon capsule and SpaceX rocket built by space-obsessed billionaire, Elon Musk and took off for the three day orbital trip on September 16 – going higher than the International Space Station.
SpaceX appears to be leading the way in the broader billionaire space race with numerous launches carrying NASA equipment to the ISS and partnerships to send tourists to space by 2021.
On February 6 2018, SpaceX sent rocket towards the orbit of Mars, 140 million miles away, with Musk’s own red Tesla roadster attached.
Elon Musk with his Dragon Crew capsule
SpaceX has also taken two groups of astronauts to the |International Space Station, with crew from NASA, ESA and JAXA, the Japanese space agency.
SpaceX has been sending batches of 60 satellites into space to help form its Starlink network, which is already in beta and providing fast internet to rural areas.
Branson and Virgin Galactic are taking a different approach to conquering space. It has repeatedly, and successfully, conducted test flights of the Virgin Galactic’s Unity space plane.
The first took place in December 2018 and the latest on May 22, with the flight accelerating to more than 2,000 miles per hour (Mach 2.7).
More than 600 affluent customers to date, including celebrities Brad Pitt and Katy Perry, have reserved a $250,000 (£200,000) seat on one of Virgin’s space trips. The final tickets are expected to cost $350,000.
Branson has previously said he expects Elon Musk to win the race to Mars with his private rocket firm SpaceX.
Richard Branson with the Virgin Galactic craft
SpaceShipTwo can carry six passengers and two pilots. Each passenger gets the same seating position with two large windows – one to the side and one overhead.
The space ship is 60ft long with a 90inch diameter cabin allowing maximum room for the astronauts to float in zero gravity.
It climbs to 50,000ft before the rocket engine ignites. SpaceShipTwo separates from its carrier craft, White Knight II, once it has passed the 50-mile mark.
Passengers become ‘astronauts’ when they reach the Karman line, the boundary of Earth’s atmosphere.
The spaceship will then make a suborbital journey with approximately six minutes of weightlessness, with the entire flight lasting approximately 1.5 hours.
Bezos revealed in April 2017 that he finances Blue Origin with around $1 billion (£720 million) of Amazon stock each year.
The system consists of a pressurised crew capsule atop a reusable ‘New Shepard’ booster rocket.
At its peak, the capsule reached 65 miles (104 kilometres), just above the official threshold for space and landed vertically seven minutes after liftoff.
Blue Origin are working on New Glenn, the next generation heavy lift rocket, that will compete with the SpaceX Falcon 9.