The US Federal Aviation Administration said it will probe billionaire Jeff Bezos’s space firm Blue Origin over safety concerns raised by the company’s former and current employees.
Alexandra Abrams, former head of Blue Origin employee communications, and 20 other unnamed employees made the charges in a letter that was sent to the FAA before being published on the whistle-blowing website, Lioness.
They also reported a “toxic environment” at the company and accused its top management of promoting a culture of sexism, adding that the work culture at Blue Origin has taken a “toll on the mental health” of many employees.
“Former and current employees … are terrified of the potential consequences for speaking out against the wealthiest man on the planet. Others have experienced periods of suicidal thoughts after having their passion for space manipulated in such a toxic environment.”
Others expressed concerns over placing the need to beat Richard Branson and Elon Musk in the space race before taking proper safety precautions.
“We have seen a pattern of decision-making that often prioritises execution speed and cost reduction over the appropriate resourcing to ensure quality,” the complaint said.
“Blue Origin has been lucky that nothing has happened so far … 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,” it added.
The FAA — the country’s largest transport agency that regulates all aspects of civil aviation - said it “takes every safety allegation seriously, and the agency is reviewing the information".
Blue Origin disputed the allegations and said it stands by its safety record.
“Ms Abrams was dismissed for cause two years ago after repeated warnings for issues involving federal export control regulations,” Blue Origin said.
“We stand by our safety record and believe that [Blue Origin rocket] New Shepard is the safest space vehicle ever designed or built.”
The global space economy, which has attracted many top companies such as Tesla and Amazon, involves various activities such as research and development, space tourism and the utilisation of space.
It employs more than 3,600 people.
“The workforce … is mostly male and overwhelmingly white. One-hundred per cent of the senior technical and programme leaders are men,” the complaint against the company said.
“We found many company leaders to be unapproachable and showing clear bias against women. Concerns related to flying New Shepard were consistently shut down and women were demeaned for raising them.”
Memos from senior leadership push employees to their limits, stating that the company needs to “get more out of our employees” and that the employees should consider it a “privilege to be a part of history”.
The company said in response to the complaint that it 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.”