The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) says it is reviewing allegations about safety issues at Blue Origin after a former employee and 20 anonymous staff raised concerns in a critical essay published at this link.
Blue Origin’s former head of employee communications Alexandra Abrams and 20 other current employees accuse Jeff Bezos and his space company of creating a sexist, toxic working environment where employees are overworked and safety concerns are rife.
They said safety concerns about Blue Origin’s New Shepard crewed suborbital flight, which took place on 20 July, were dismissed in an atmosphere that discourages dissent and free discussion.
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.
In 2020, company leaders demonstrated increasing impatience with New Shepard’s schedule of a few flights per year; their goal, routinely communicated to operations and maintenance staff, was to scale to more than 40. Some of us felt that with the resources and staff available, leadership’s race to launch at such a breakneck speed was seriously compromising flight safety.
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. In 2019, the team assigned to operate and maintain one of New Shepard’s subsystems included only a few engineers working long hours. Their responsibilities, in some of our opinions, went far beyond what would be manageable for a team double the size, ranging from investigating the root cause of failures to conducting regular preventative maintenance on the rocket’s systems.
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.” In weekly meetings, we have seen Bezos and CEO Smith frequently broaden the scope of existing projects, sometimes even adding more programs, but without authorizing the needed increase in budget or personnel.
We have seen a pattern of decision-making that often prioritizes execution speed and cost reduction over the appropriate resourcing to ensure quality. 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.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
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