In a lengthy open letter, 21 Blue Origin employees/former employees have expressed safety issues about the rocket manufactured by the company founded by left-wing billionaire Jeff Bezos.
The damming missive includes allegations from one engineer who implied that what others suggest is a high-tech sweatshop has lucked out so far in avoiding a perhaps Challenger-like disaster and other employees who said they personally would not go aboard.
At least some of the anonymous signees preferred to stay that way out of concerns that they would be blacklisted, i.e., rendered unemployable, in the industry.
“At Blue Origin, a common question during high-level meetings was, ‘When will Elon or 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,” the letter claimed about the company that insists that safety is its “top mission.”
In July, the Amazon boss himself took a 10-minute trip into space aboard the “New Shepard” rocket without incident, and the next trip, carrying four paying customers, is scheduled for October 12. New Shepard has also taken flight about 15 times with no passengers.
In the letter posted at the Lioness website that is authored by Alexandra Abrams, the former head of Blue Origin employee communications, along with 20 undisclosed others, claims that executives allegedly brushed aside concerns about safety, as alluded to above:
Critics inside the company have been forced out for speaking up and offered payment in exchange for signing even more restrictive nondisclosure agreements—including some of the engineers who ensure the very safety of the rockets. [CEO Bob] Smith’s inner circle of loyalists makes unilateral decisions, often without the buy-in of engineers, other experts, or senior leaders across various departments. 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…
In the opinion of an engineer who has signed on to this essay, “Blue Origin has been lucky that nothing has happened so far.” Many of this essay’s authors say they would not fly on a Blue Origin vehicle. And no wonder—we have all seen how often teams are stretched beyond reasonable limits…
Requests by managers and employees 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. Employees are often told to “be careful with Jeff’s money,” to “not ask for more,” and to “be grateful…We have seen a pattern of decision-making that often prioritizes execution speed and cost reduction over the appropriate resourcing to ensure quality….
The letter also claims that “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.”
Blue Origin is also allegedly guilty of original sin, according to the letter. This includes rampant sexism, along with a workforce that is seemingly too white and too male, and, given the pressure, one that jeopardizes workers’ mental health. Bezos also stands accused of disregarding environmental impacts, despite his stated support for climate justice.
“[I]f 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,” the authors contend in the essay.
In an interview with CBS Mornings, Abrams said that “the people who signed on to this essay are absolutely incredible, brave, brilliant, human beings. I look at this group, and I see fighters for truth, fighters for safety, fighters for quality…13 of the 21 signees are engineers or technicians. They span all the major programs of the company.”
Abrams submitted the letter to the Federal Aviation Administration before it was published online, and the governmental agency is reviewing the material.
She added that things changed at Blue Origin when Jeff Bezos “started becoming impatient,” given the looming space race with rivals Musk and Branson (as mentioned above), and that competition allegedly took precedence over safety.
Alexandra Abrams, a former head of employee communications for Blue Origin, is speaking out against the company to @LaurieSegall.
“You cannot create a culture of safety and a culture of fear at the same time. They are incompatible.” pic.twitter.com/JHuFY3cjcs
— CBS Mornings (@CBSMornings) September 30, 2021
“In a statement to CBS News, Blue Origin did not address safety allegations in the essay, but said the company has no tolerance for discrimination or harassment of any kind – and will promptly investigate any new claims of misconduct,” the network reported.
“Blue Origin said Abrams was fired after repeated warnings for issues regarding federal export control regulations. Abrams said she never received any warnings regarding issues of that nature.”
The company separately told Space.com that “We stand by our safety record and believe that New Shepard is the safest space vehicle ever designed or built.”
Abrams updated the letter to include Blue Origin’s response.
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