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A Blue Origin booster coming in for a landing in 2019. Photo: Blue Origin

A letter signed by 21 current and former employees of Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin accuses the company of mishandling harassment allegations and raises questions about its culture.

The big picture: Blue Origin is trying to compete with SpaceX and others for lucrative government contracts but it's facing employee attrition rates as high as 20%, according to a report from CNBC.

Driving the news: Blue Origin launched Bezos and three others to suborbital space in July.

  • The mission was a success, but the authors of the letter contend the company is "lucky" it hasn't experienced a major accident due to a culture of overwork at the company.
  • "That culture has also taken a toll on the mental health of many of the people who make Blue Origin’s operations possible," the letter says.
  • "Memos from senior leadership reveal a desire to 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.'"

What to watch: The safety of private spaceflight companies is likely to come under more scrutiny from the FAA in the coming years, putting company culture under a microscope as well.

  • At the moment, companies like Blue Origin fly under a regime of "informed consent" where passengers are told of the risks when flying to space, but the FAA is not allowed to regulate for their safety.
  • That could change if Congress opts to allow the administration to start regulating the industry more heavily.
  • "I think what we've brought to light shows that the current voluntary framework is not being adhered to," Alexandra Abrams, former head of Blue Origin employee communications, and one of the authors of the letter told me.

What they're saying: “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," a company spokesperson told the Verge.

Go deeper: Blue Origin’s ideas to mimic SpaceX sound pretty brutal for employees (The Verge)

Go deeper

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Jan 4, 2022 - Science

Majority of Americans don't want to travel to the Moon

Expand chart
Data: Axios/Momentive poll; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

Private human spaceflight has advanced tremendously in the last year, but many ordinary people aren't ready to visit the Moon themselves, according to a new Axios/Momentive poll.

Why it matters: Private space tourism today caters to an ultra-rich clientele, but eventually, the companies making a business out of sending people to space want to widen their reach to many more people.

Updated 7 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds — Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies — Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker

Arizona governor sues Biden administration over COVID funds tied to mandates

A teacher prepares a hallway barrier to help students maintain social distancing at John B. Wright Elementary School in Tucson, Arizona, on Aug. 14, 2020. Photo: Cheney Orr/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) filed a lawsuit Friday against the Biden administration for ordering the state to stop allocating federal COVID relief funds to schools that don't comply with public health recommendations such as masking, the Arizona Republic reports.

Why it matters: The Treasury Department said last week that the state would have to pay back the money if Ducey does not redesignate the $173 million programs to ensure they don't "undermine efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19."