Jeff Bezos emerges from New Shepard's crew capsule in July
Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin rocket company has been accused of fostering a "toxic" culture in which senior executives are alleged to have sexually harassed staff and in one instance “physically groping” a female employee.
An open letter, claiming to represent the views of 21 current and former Blue Origin employees, alleged that “numerous” senior executives have been known to be “consistently inappropriate with women”.
The letter, signed by Alexandra Abrams, the company’s former head of employee communications, claimed that one executive in chief executive Bob Smith’s “loyal inner circle” was reported to HR multiple times for sexual harassment.
It said another senior employee had treated female colleagues in a “condescending and demeaning” manner, calling them names such as "baby doll" and "baby girl".
The letter said: “It appeared to many of us that he was protected by his close personal relationship with Bezos—it took him physically groping a female subordinate for him to finally be let go.”
Meanwhile, the letter, which Ms Abrams claimed had been co-written with 20 current and former staff anonymously, alleged that Blue Origin had prioritised Mr Bezos’s race against rivals to fly to space over engineers’ safety concerns.
The letter said: "Competing with other billionaires—and ‘making progress for Jeff’—seemed to take precedence over safety concerns that would have slowed down the schedule."
Blue Origin’s rocket, New Shepard, flew Mr Bezos and three others to the edge of space on July 20. The 11 minute flight shot him beyond the height reached by rival Sir Richard Branson on his Virgin Galactic rocket days earlier.
A spokesman for Blue Origin said Ms Abrams was sacked from the company in 2018. The spokesman added: "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."
Virgin Spaceship Unity (VSS Unity)
Blue Origin is planning to launch its second civilian space tourism flight on October 12.
The claims against Blue Origin came hours after Virgin Galactic, Sir Richard’s company, pledged to bolster its safety procedures after a US investigation into the billionaire’s debut space flight veering off course.
The company said it had been cleared to resume space flight, seven weeks after the Federal Aviation Authority grounded the company for leaving its designated airspace on July 11.
It said it had changed how it calculated the protected airspace it would need, expanding the area its aircraft can fly in, and that it had added new procedures that will allow it to notify the FAA in real time during flights. Sir Richard fulfilled a decades-long ambition to travel to the edge of space in the July flight, which was seen as a breakthrough moment for the company after years of setbacks.
But the SpaceShipTwo craft drifted away from its path for one minute and 41 seconds of the 15 minute flight.
Virgin Galactic has denied that pilots should have aborted the flight, which would have prevented Sir Richard enjoying bragging rights over Mr Bezos, who travelled to space days later.