KEY POINTS

  • SpaceX engineers recounted the company's early days on the island of Omelek in the new book "Liftoff"
  • The SpaceX engineers on Omelek went on strike in 2005 when a shipment of food failed to arrive, a new book says
  • One engineer said they "got fed up" after being forced to work "around the clock"

SpaceX's rocket engineers once staged a mutiny when they ran out of food on the Pacific island where they were building a launchpad and the Falcon 1 rocket, according to a new book.

In Ars Technica senior space editor Eric Berger's new book "Liftoff," employees of Elon Musk's company recounted SpaceX's early days on the island of Omelek, part of the Marshall Islands' Kwajalein Atoll -- including the time they went on strike due to hunger back in 2005. At the time, supply deliveries were often delayed due to "poor" logistics, Berger wrote. 

While the company is now based in Boca Chica, Texas, and is no longer in the Marshall Islands, SpaceX employees were working out of Omelek at the time as the U.S. Army, which oversaw the territory, was more open to the company's plans than the Air Force, which was allegedly blocking its plans to launch from California, Business Insider reported. It was also easier to launch the rocket into orbit from the island as it was closer to the equator.

The team decided enough was enough one day when a boat carrying food, beer and cigarettes failed to arrive. This, along with a scolding from SpaceX managers and more "paperwork, forms and tickets" forced onto them, led to the engineers going on strike.

One former SpaceX engineer, Bulent Altan, said they "felt like slaves out on Omelek, with all the power stripped away from us."

"We had been going around the clock," Jeremy Hollman, the engineer who led the Omelek team, explained. "At some point everybody got fed up and decided that we needed to find a way to let them know that we were a part of this team as well."

According to the author, Tim Buzza, the company's launch director, "recognized the gravity of the situation" after receiving a call from the engineers. He arranged for an Army helicopter to deliver the promised cigarettes and chicken wings on the same night as the mutiny.

Ed Thomas, a SpaceX technician at the time, told Berger that they felt like "wild animals on the island, waiting for food."

Fortunately, the delivery was successful, and the engineers later went back to work after eating.

The SpaceX workers' conditions on Omelek improved over time, and by 2007, they no longer needed to rely on supply deliveries. The engineers could cook their own food in their kitchen and had a "refrigerated sea van" with unlimited drinks, according to Berger.

"Everything was fantastic luxury, compared to the first flight, so we loved it on Omelek," Altan said.

"Liftoff: Elon Musk and the Desperate Early Days That Launched SpaceX" hit shelves Tuesday.

SpaceX CEO and founder Elon Musk reportedly said anyone who can handle a really tough roller coaster can handle riding in the Dragon capsule SpaceX CEO and founder Elon Musk reportedly said anyone who can handle a really tough roller coaster can handle riding in the Dragon capsule Photo: AFP / Patrick T. FALLON