Ashley Kosak, a former SpaceX mission integration engineer and now a program manager at Apple, described in a letter the repeated and widespread harassment taking place throughout Elon Musk’s space company.
Kosak joined SpaceX as an intern in 2017. In 2019 she joined the company full time and has worked as a build reliability engineer and mission integration engineer. She worked on integrating the Crew Dragon capsule for the historic Demo-2 flight that returned crew launch capabilities to the United States. But throughout all of this, she faced harassment.
Sexual harassment at SpaceX
Her letter, published on Lioness, describes her experience:
A few weeks after my start date, a fellow intern approached me in our intern housing and grabbed my butt while I was washing my dishes. I reported the incident to a superior and another colleague, but the matter was never brought to HR. I had to continue living in the residence with this man.
These experiences continued from her start at the company to current. As she describes:
In the past year alone, I have had to bring multiple different incidents of sexism to HR. Some of the men who work at SpaceX hug women without consent, stare at women while they work, and interpret every company-related social event as an opportunity to date (or hit on) women in the office. I saw one woman pressured into dancing with a male colleague in front of other male employees. When we had to work from home during the pandemic, men from the company found my Instagram account, messaging me to ask me out. One called my phone at 4:00 am. Another coworker came to my house and insisted on touching me even when I repeatedly requested we stay professional.
According to the letter, each of these experiences was reported to HR, without anything being done. “I was told that matters of this nature were too private to openly discuss with the perpetrators.”
Kosak tried to lead the reform herself, introducing a standardized plan for how harassment should be dealt with:
I presented ideas for a standardized framework for penalizing sexual harassers to HR, as they had not implemented any remedies; those ideas went unresponded to. I recorded a meeting I had with HR, because I found it so unbelievable that there was no system in place to deal with this behavior.
She continued by questioning if this behavior would be the standard in Musk’s future Martian colony:
These conditions would be disturbing anywhere, but in this particular workplace, we are blazing a trail to settle a new planet. What will life on Elon’s Mars be like? Probably much like life at SpaceX. Elon uses engineers as a resource to be mined rather than a team to be led. The health of Earth is rarely a consideration in the company’s projects. Misogyny is rampant.
Environmental concerns at SpaceX
Following the cultural problems throughout SpaceX, the letter addressed how the high-speed and optimistic goals of the company lead to environmental concerns being ignored:
Dismayed by the lack of an environmental plan, I created a plan that would bring SpaceX to full carbon neutrality by 2030. It contained a framework for a diverse and functional society that would learn from our colonial past and incorporate indigenous expertise. I brought this plan directly to Elon Musk, who dismissed it with an email that said: “We have wind and solar energy.”
But the new buildings on the campus run on gas generators, and company funding is not being dedicated to reducing carbon emissions. While there are solar panels on campus, any attempts to make new buildings and infrastructure sustainable (LEED) are deprioritized in favor of expanding the factory as fast as possible.
Leaving the company
Ultimately, the stress that had mounted from my years of working at SpaceX broke my health down in ways I had never previously experienced. In November 2021, my psychiatrist wrote to the company to recommend that I take a leave of absence due to panic attacks that gave me heart palpitations. As I took a week’s medical leave to recover, I received a frantic cadence of calls from HR, asking to talk—presumably to have me sign a nondisclosure agreement in exchange for money.
Ashley Kosak left SpaceX last month. She now works at Apple as an operations program manager.
Space Explored’s take
I would like to start by asking everyone reading this to go read her letter in full. It addresses more issues rampant throughout the company.
This is sadly yet another example of women in STEM fields facing regular harassment. The Verge spoke with four more SpaceX employees who faced similar experiences.
These former employees agree that SpaceX is a bit of a “boys’ club,” as one former employee put it, and say they were part of a very small group of women and nonbinary people working at the company. That made them feel severely outnumbered. The former employees also believe the company is reluctant to hold some men accountable for bad behavior, especially if those men have put in a lot of time at SpaceX or have contributed great things to the company.Loren Grush, The Verge
We saw a similar letter released by Blue Origin employees in September. Women at Jeff Bezos’ rocket company faced similar instances of harassment to those at Elon Musk’s.