October 2, 2021

THE NEW SPACE RACE: Blue Origin employees say they wouldn’t feel safe riding the company’s rockets and that it’s ‘lucky that nothing has happened.’

Jeff Bezos, who founded the company in 2000, launched to the edge of space aboard its New Shepard rocket in July. Since that flight, Blue Origin has opened ticket sales, and four customers are scheduled to launch on October 12. But the new letter says that Blue Origin’s leadership has ignored employees’ safety concerns in favor of “making progress for Jeff” and accelerating New Shepard’s launch schedule.

The only named author on the letter is Alexandra Abrams, who used to head Blue Origin’s employee communications. She published the essay on the website Lioness on Thursday but said that 20 other current and former Blue Origin employees cowrote it. None of those coauthors were named, but CBS News has spoken with five of them. The letter also made claims of a culture of sexism, harassment, and intolerance to dissent at Blue Origin.

New Shepard has flown successfully 15 times without people on board and once with passengers, when Bezos went. The rocket has an emergency system that can jettison the passenger capsule away from a failing rocket if necessary.

But, the letter said: “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.”

Two former Blue Origin employees confirmed to CBS News that they would not feel comfortable riding a Blue Origin spacecraft.

The open letter said that safety was “the driving force” behind the decision to publish for many of its coauthors. It also said that in 2018, when someone new took over one particular team, the manager discovered that the team had documented “more than 1,000 problem reports” related to the company’s rocket engines. None of those reports had been addressed, the letter said.

Going into space is inherently dangerous and not for everyone — not even everyone who works for a space company.

But this letter, if correct, makes it plain that Blue Origin has a toxic corporate culture that has become a safety problem.

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