Employees of billionaire Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin said they “could not bear to watch” his flight into outer space over the summer. At the moment of what was supposed to be the company’s crowning achievement, they say it was bittersweet because of the toxic, grueling process that led up to that point. 

In an open letter, 21 current and former Blue Origins employees penned a scathing essay that criticized the company and Bezos for fostering a poisonous work culture. In it, they describe a workplace where female employees are sexually harassed and mistreated professionally, a complete disregard for any environmental impact of their work, and an oppressive system that actively crushes dissent. 

"We believe exploring the possibilities for human civilization beyond Earth is a necessity," wrote the authors. "But if this company’s culture and work environment are a template for the future Jeff Bezos envisions, we are headed in a direction that reflects the worst of the world we live in now, and sorely needs to change.”

Of the 21 employees behind the letter, only one chose to attach their name to it, Alexandra Abrams, the former Head of Blue Origin Employee Communications.

The company said Abrams was fired after "repeated warnings regarding federal export-control regulations", but she rejects the accusation. Speaking on Thursday, Abrams said she was actually fired for refusing senior leaderships' request that she help roll out stricter agreements that she says stripped employees of their rights to raise most disputes in court or to speak freely about alleged harassment or discrimination.

In a separate article by Fortune magazine, five other authors said that they did not want to use their name because of non-disclosure and non-disparagement forms they signed. Others feared retaliation by the company. 

For female employees, male managers repeatedly subjected them to what they say were inappropriate questions about their dating lives or called demeaning terms like “baby doll.” 

One senior executive in CEO Bob Smith’s "loyal inner circle" was reported multiple times for sexual harassment only to be promoted to a senior human resources role in 2019. Another, who they described as personally close to Bezos, was only "let go" after physically groping a female subordinate.  

A company representative told Business Insider that it would not tolerate any harassment and said it would investigate these claims.

The employees also write that they were inspired by Blue Origin’s mission only to become disillusioned over time with the work culture and Bezos’ rush to outer space. Worryingly, they say the leadership team ignored requests for additional resources to address key safety concerns about the flight. 

Bezos’ New Shepherd spacecraft exited the atmosphere on July 20 without incident, but one engineer reportedly remarked that Blue Origin was “lucky” that nothing went wrong. 

Blue Origin, the space company owned by Amazon's Jeff Bezos, said its next space flight will take place on October 12 Blue Origin, the space company owned by Amazon's Jeff Bezos, said its next space flight will take place on October 12 Photo: GETTY IMAGES / JOE RAEDLE

They charge company leadership of pursuing a mad dash to space as done in name of aiding Bezos in “competing with other billionaires”. It was recounted that a common question during high-level meetings was, “When will Elon or Branson fly?”, referring to Virgin Galactic CEO Richard Branson and SpaceX founder Elon Musk. 

Branson for his part beat Bezos to space on July 11, while Musk has insisted that he would rather “focus on building a starship” than travel out of orbit himself.

SpaceX is currently working alongside the U.S. government on a series of space projects, but it is also locked in a legal battle over the government's contract to Musk's company. 

These outer space ambitions of billionaires have come in for criticism for what is seen as a self-centered pursuit of their own whims than seeking any loftier ambition to help others. 

On Sept. 21, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres ripped into the billionaires’ race to space, deriding it as “joyriding to space while millions go hungry on Earth” during his opening remarks at the U.N. General Assembly.  

The Blue Origin employees similarly point out the disconnect between the company’s mission statement of “enabling a future where millions of people are living and working in space to benefit Earth” and the toxic corporate culture it has created. 

“In our experience, Blue Origin’s culture sits on a foundation that ignores the plight of our planet, turns a blind eye to sexism, is not sufficiently attuned to safety concerns, and silences those who seek to correct wrongs. That’s not the world we should be creating here on Earth, and certainly not as our springboard to a better one,” they wrote before ending their essay with a question.

"Should we as a society allow ego-driven individuals with endless caches of money and very little accountability to be the ones to shape that future?"