Stucky Turns Blue: Joins Jeff Bezos’ Space Company After Departure From Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic

Richard Branson (l) and George Whitesides (r) walk with SpaceShipTwo pilots David Mackay and Mark Stucky after a successful glide flight. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

Mark Stucky, whom Virgin Galactic demoted as its director of flight test in May and fired two months later, has joined Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space company, CNN reports.

Stucky said he will join Blue Origin’s “Advanced Development Programs” team, where he said in a statement to CNN that he will “do my best to contribute to [CEO Jeff Bezos’] amazing vision of humans not just having a continuous presence in space but truly becoming a space-faring species.”

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A Teary-eyed William Shatner Describes Flying to Space for Real Aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard

Jeff Bezos pins Blue Origin astronaut wings on actor William Shatner. (Credit: Blue Origin webcast)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Visibly moved to tears, Star Trek actor William Shatner struggled to describe the experience of spaceflight to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos after making a suborbital flight aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard capsule.

“What you have given me is the most profound experience I can imagine. I am so filled with emotion about what just happened. Just extraordinary. I hope I never recover from this. I hope that I can maintain what I feel now, I don’t wanna lose it,” he said.

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Discovery and Science Channel to Broadcast William Shatner Flight To Space

William Shatner in his flight suit (Credit: Blue Origin)

Space Launch LIVE: Shatner in SpaceAiring Live
on Discovery and Science Channel, Wednesday, October 13, 8:30 -10:30 AM

Discovery and Science Channel brings viewers the highly-anticipated launch of Star Trek star William Shatner as he takes his first flight into space — at the age of 90, soon to be the oldest person to fly to space — on Blue Origin’s New Shepard, a cutting-edge suborbital rocket.

Scheduled for Wednesday after weather delays, the mission, known as NS-18, will launch from Blue Origin’s West Texas site. This will be the second-ever crewed spaceflight for Blue Origin after its inaugural crewed flight launched founder Jeff Bezos and three other passengers on a 10-minute trip to space and back in July.

Report: Blue Origin has Stagnant, “Authoritarian Bro Culture”

Jeff Bezos

The Washington Post has a story examining the dysfunction at Jeff Bozos’ Blue Origin space company. It’s not a pretty portrait of the company under CEO Bob Smith.

The new management’s “authoritarian bro culture,” as one former employee put it, affected how decisions were made and permeated the institution, translating into condescending, sometimes humiliating, comments and harassment toward some women and a stagnant top-down hierarchy that frustrated many employees.

As it quickly grew from a small start-up to a large corporation with nearly 4,000 employees, Blue Origin grappled with how to improve its culture. In 2019, the company fired its head of recruiting after employees complained of sexism. A consultant retained by Blue Origin conducted a review of the company’s leadership, finding that the primary challenge was Smith’s ineffective, micromanaging leadership style, said two former employees, including a top executive.

The interviews and documents obtained by The Post reveal wide-ranging employee concerns about Smith’s leadership style, a bureaucracy that hampered innovation, and a lack of intervention from Bezos, who employees said was not giving the company enough attention during a crucial period….

Not everyone says the company culture has grown toxic. One employee who works outside the main headquarters said she has found the culture and leadership welcoming and respectful. Blue Origin’s human resources team took immediate action when she reported a claim of “highly inappropriate behavior” from another employee earlier this year, she said.

The company started investigating right away, and the other employee was terminated, further confirming her confidence in the company. “I’ve never felt like I couldn’t go to our leadership for support,” she said. “I’ve never felt like I couldn’t go to HR with a problem.”

The story appears to confirm many of the claims made in an open letter published by Blue Origin’s former head of employee communications Alexandra Abrams and 20 former and present company employees.

William Shatner Flight to Space Postponed to Wednesday

William Shatner with CrewMember 7 Sarah Knights (left), and Audrey Powers (right). (Credit: Blue Origin)

KENT, Wash. (Blue Origin PR) — Due to forecasted winds on Tuesday, October 12, Blue Origin’s mission operations team has made the decision to delay the launch of NS-18 and is now targeting Wednesday, October 13. Liftoff from Launch Site One is currently targeted for 8:30 am CDT / 13:30 UTC on Wednesday. 

As part of today’s Flight Readiness Review, the mission operations team confirmed the vehicle has  met all mission requirements and astronauts began their training today. Weather is the only gating factor for the launch window.

Passengers will include: Star Trek actor William Shatner; Chris Boshuizen, co-founder of Planet Labs; Glen de Vries, vice-chairman of Licenses & Healthcare, Dassault Systemes and co-founder of Mediadata; and Audrey Powers, Blue Origin VP of Mission and Flight Operations.

William Shatner to Boldly Go Where No Star Trek Captain Has Gone Before on Blue Origin’s New Shepard

William Shatner with CrewMember 7 Sarah Knights (left), and Audrey Powers (right). (Credit: Blue Origin)

KENT, Wash. (Blue Origin PR) — Today, Blue Origin announced actor William Shatner and Audrey Powers, Blue Origin’s Vice President of Mission & Flight Operations, will fly on board New Shepard NS-18. They will join crewmates Chris Boshuizen and Glen de Vries for the flight which lifts off from Launch Site One on October 12.  

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USNC-Tech Team Wins Contract to Develop Nuclear Thermal Propulsion System For NASA

Nuclear thermal propulsion system. (Credit; USNC-Tech)

NTP Technology Can Enable Human Missions to Mars

SEATTLE (USNC-Tech PR) — Idaho National Laboratory has selected USNC-Tech and its partners to develop a nuclear thermal propulsion (NTP) reactor concept design for space exploration: the Power-Adjusted Demonstration Mars Engine (PADME) NTP engine.

This effort, one of three selected by the government team, is a step toward the manufacture and demonstration of safe, affordable, reliable, high-performance NTP engines for crewed deep space travel. In the future, the designs could inform a full-scale NTP engine prototype. The funding for this procurement was provided by NASA. INL is operated by Battelle Energy Alliance for the Department of Energy.

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NASA Researchers Gain Valuable Data from OSCAR’s Second Flight

Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket, which carried payloads supported by NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program, lands on the pad in West Texas on Aug. 26, 2021. NASA’s Orbital Syngas Commodity Augmentation Reactor (OSCAR), which tests technology to convert trash and human waste generated during spaceflight into useful gases, was a part of the 17th New Shepard mission. (Credits: Blue Origin)

By Jim Cawley
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center

Data from a NASA payload investigating a new method for dealing with trash in space has researchers at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida excited following the Aug. 26 flight test on Blue Origin’s 17th New Shepard mission.

The Orbital Syngas Commodity Augmentation Reactor (OSCAR) team watched the launch from a neighboring hill, witnessing liftoff, booster landing, and payload touchdown. Though, as researchers, they became even more energized after landing.

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FAA Examination of Blue Origin Safety Issues Likely to be Very Narrow

New Shepard launch (Credit: Blue Origin webcast)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has said it will examine safety issues about Blue Origin’s crewed suborbital New Shepard vehicle raised by a group of current and former employees in an open letter published on Thursday.

The announcement comes 11 days before four paying customers, one reported to be Star Trek star William Shatner, are scheduled to board New Shepard for a trip to space. While a federal safety review might sound reassuring to these ticket holders, what does it actually mean in practice?

Probably not much.

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Blue Origin Critic Denies Company’s Claim About Export Control Warnings

Blue Origin’s former head of employee communications Alexandra Abrams, who authored a critical essay about Jeff Bezos’ space company, has denied a claim that she was fired after repeated warnings about federal export control regulations. Abrams issued the following statement:

I never received any warnings, verbal or written, from management involving federal export control regulations. When I was contacted by an internal software engineer about potential opportunities for violations within the 3rd party software “SocialChorus,” I immediately raised the concern with the Information Security Department and escalated it to senior management. I then initiated a root cause investigation supported by safety and mission assurance. As a communications professional, and part of the non-technical staff, I was not responsible for certifying or approving any compliance of any 3rd party software architecture. And to-date, so far as I’m aware, the software in question is still used by Blue Origin, and Amazon.

Blue Origins issued the following statement in the wake of Abrams’ essay, which she said was supported by 20 current and former employees, that alleged the company has a toxic culture with sexism, excessive working hours and a lax attitude about safety.

Ms. Abrams was dismissed for cause two years ago after repeated warnings for issues involving federal export control regulations. 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.

You can read the full essay here.

Blue Origin Slams Main Author of Critical Essay

Blue Origin has responded to an essay published by the company’s former head of employee communications Alexandra Abrams and 20 current and former employees accusing the company of having a toxic, sexist culture that overworks people and cuts corner on flight and environmental safety. The statement reads:

Ms. Abrams was dismissed for cause two years ago after repeated warnings for issues involving federal export control regulations.

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.

Violating federal export control regulations is a very serious charge. The question is what part of Abrams job as head of employee communications would involve these regulations.