Blue Origin, the space tourism company founded by ex-Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, is facing accusations of fostering a discriminatory, "toxic" workplace and putting speed and cost reduction over safety. On Thursday, a group of 21 current and former Blue Origin employees published an open essay detailing allegations of sexism, harassment and safety concerns at the company.
Blue Origin, which has more than 3,000 employees, is "rife with sexism" and some senior leaders are "known to be consistently inappropriate with women," the group alleges in the essay, saying that at least one senior leader appeared to be protected by having a close relationship with Bezos.
The essay also says professional dissent at Blue Origin was "actively stifled," which was dehumanizing for employees and also led to safety concerns.
The essay comes as three US space exploration companies vie for government contracts and for milestones with their rockets. Blue Origin has sued NASA for denying the company a contract to build a new moon landing vehicle. The contract went to Elon Musk's SpaceX, in April. Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson rode in one of his company's rockets to the edge of space in July, just days before Bezos joined the first manned flight of Blue Origin's New Shepard vehicle on a similar flight.
In an interview with CBS Mornings, former Blue Origin head of employee communications Alexandra Abrams, who was part of the group that wrote the open essay, said there was increasing pressure and "impatience" to stay ahead of rival space companies led by Musk and Branson. Abrams said she believes competition took precedence over safety.
Abrams said she wouldn't trust a trust a Blue Origin vehicle, noting that, "You cannot create a culture of safety and a culture of fear at the same time. They are incompatible."
A Blue Origin spokesperson said the company 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," the spokesperson said in an emailed statement.
The spokesperson also said the company stands behind its safety record and believes that "New Shepard is the safest space vehicle ever designed or built."
Blue Origin's next crewed launch is scheduled for Oct. 12. Onboard will be former NASA engineer Chris Boshuizen and entrepreneur Glen de Vries. Two other amateur astronauts will also be on board but haven't yet been announced.