Former Deputy Administrator of NASA Lori Garver came out with a new book in June titled, “Escaping Gravity: My Quest to Transform NASA and Launch a New Space Age.” The book is a memoir of her time in the space sector, particularly focused on her time in the Obama Administration where she spearheaded commercialization efforts. Here, we talk about the book and other topics about the government organization and the private sector.
Q. What is the most important thing(s) you want readers to take away from your book?
I think that the value of humans first exploring space was most directly tied to looking back and seeing our home planet and recognizing we are in this together. We often envision space being about just going to somewhere else, but we have learned so much about ourselves and our planet from just going to space. I would like people to recognize that the government program can focus on those priorities and reduce the cost of accessibility to space, so even more people, satellites can go to space for valuable purposes.
How has the move toward commercial space you led helped the U.S. space program?
NASA has always had commercial industry involved in our space program very closely. What we have been starting, decades before, was recognizing the things that are routine about space could be done by the private sector in ways that reduce the cost through innovation and opening new markets. Lowering the cost of space transportation by some of the policies that I helped drive has allowed us to take better advantage of the unique vantage of space and allowed NASA to focus, or should allow even more, NASA to focus on things that are uniquely important to the government.
Loren Grush at The Vergereports that SpaceX has fired at least five employees who were involved in circulating an open letter condemning founder Elon Musk’s behavior on Twitter, calling for the company to immediately disassociate itself from what they view as Musk’s increasingly toxic brand, and demanding equal enforcement of the company’s professed “No Assholes” and “Zero Tolerance” policies regarding sexual harassment and other inappropriate behavior.
Grush also reports that the open letter was signed by 404 employees in the day and half before it was removed from an internal company chat board. A separate story by The Verge raises the question of whether the firings were illegal under labor laws.
Our story, which examines the controversy as well as allegations of sexual harassment and racial discrimination at another Musk company, Tesla Motors, can be read here.
The Verge also obtained a copy of an email sent to employees to SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell. It is reproduced below.
The Verge quotes two employees as saying there was no undue pressure applied on co-workers to sign the letter.
However, two of those involved with writing it, speaking on the condition of anonymity, dispute that claim. They say they simply posted the letter to the Teams channels, pointing people to it and asking for support.
“There was no pressure applied to anyone to collect signatures,” one employee who helped craft the letter said, who also wanted to remain anonymous. “The open letter either stands on its own or it doesn’t.”
With the federal government investigating Tesla’s full-self driving program over crashes, a muck racking website claiming to have evidence the car company has padded sales numbers, and SpaceX employeesasking management to condemn Elon Musk’s behavior, the wealthiest man in the world is certainly seeing his problems stack up.
And now the billionaire has got another one. Decrypt reports on a lawsuit filed against Musk, SpaceX and Tesla seeking $285 billion in damages:
Loren Grush at The Verge reports on an open letter being circulated within SpaceX that calls upon the company to“publicly address and condemn” CEO and Founder Elon Musk’s “harmful Twitter behavior. SpaceX must swiftly and explicitly separate itself from Elon’s personal brand.”
“Elon’s behavior in the public sphere is a frequent source of distraction and embarrassment for us, particularly in recent weeks. As our CEO and most prominent spokesperson, Elon is seen as the face of SpaceX—every Tweet that Elon sends is a de facto public statement by the company. It is critical to make clear to our teams and to our potential talent pool that his messaging does not reflect our work, our mission, or our values,” the letter said.
The letter calls for equal enforcement of SpaceX’s “zero tolerance” policy on sexual harassment. The call comes amid claims made by a former employee that sexual harassment is rife within the company, and a published report by Insider that alleged SpaceX paid a $250,000 severance to a company flight attendant after a naked Musk exposed his erect penis to her during a flight on a corporate jet. Musk and SpaceX officials denied the billionaire exposed himself.
Tim Farrar has a long thread that looks at SpaceX’s valuation and ability to raise money — both of which are crucial to its continued development of the Starlink satellite broadband constellation and the Starship/Super Heavy rocket. A lot of that valuation is dependent on confidence in the company and its founder, Elon Musk.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has vowed to fight for SpaceX to receive federal approval to launch its Super Heavy/Starship system from the company’s Starbase facility in Boca Chica, Texas. Rio Grande Guardianreports:
Asked by veteran broadcaster Ron Whitlock of Ron Whitlock Reports whether he is concerned about losing SpaceX, Abbott said:
“What I am going to do if Biden interferes with the ability of SpaceX to launch from Boca Chica; I am going to be working every step of the way to make sure that they are going to be able to launch from Boca Chica. We heard the vision from Mr. Patel himself about what they are working on and our job is to make sure they are able to achieve their vision. And I have worked with Elon Musk very closely with regard to Tesla and the Giga factory in Austin, Texas. And we will be working with him very closely, every step of the way in Boca Chica for the future of SpaceX. We want that future and that vision to come from Boca Chica, from Brownsville, Texas.”
Whitlock followed up with: “And not to Florida?” Abbott responded: “Correct.”
Whitlock interviewed Abbott at an economic development event held recently at the Port of Brownsville. Since this event, SpaceX has learned that its application to expand its Boca Chica rocket launching site has hit a new hurdle.
Former SpaceX engineer Ashley Kosak has published an essay alleging rampant sexual harassment at Elon Musk’s space company, portraying a dysfunctional company where management is unwilling to respond to complaints or to discipline offenders.
The essay was published as seven women filed sexual harassment lawsuits against Tesla Motors, which is another company where Musk serves as CEO. The suits have accused the automaker of “fostering a culture of sexual harassment” against women. In October, Tesla was ordered to pay $137 million in damages to a former African American worker who alleged in a lawsuit he was subjected to racial discriminator and slurs “straight from the Jim Crow era.” Tesla has disputed the claims and is appealing the judgment.
In her essay published by Lioness, Kosak said she incidents of sexual harassment started when she was an intern at SpaceX and continued after she became a full-time mission integration engineer.
Time has named SpaceX and Tesla Founder/CEO Elon Musk as its 2021 Person of the Year. You can read the profile here. Time named vaccine scientists as heroes of the year.
Reaction on Twitter fell into familiar grooves, with praise from the space community where he has overwhelming support. Former NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver tweeted her congratulations — and put in a plug for her forthcoming book.
Musk’s reputation outside the space community is much more mixed. Automotive journalist E.W. Niedermeyer, who wrote a critical book about Tesla Motors called Ludicrous, gave the selection a Bronx cheer.
Musk has faced significant backlash over his enormous wealth, the amount of taxes he pays, treatment of workers, accounting practices, downplaying of the COVID-19 pandemic and other issues.
Some suggested that medical staff who have risked and lost their lives on the front lines of the pandemic battle deserved the honor more.
Others suggested the officers who defended the U.S. Capitol from a mob that attacked it on Jan. 6.
It seems that Elon Musk is a bit peeved that President Joe Biden didn’t congratulate SpaceX on completing the privately-funded Inspiration4 crewed mission last week and helping to raise $210 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
“He’s still sleeping,” Musk wrote in response to a question from a Twitter follower about Biden’s silence. It was a clear reference to ex-President Donald Trump’s description of him as “sleepy Joe” during the campaign.
The remark set off the usual battle on social media. Musk’s legion of defenders called the omission unforgivable. Musk’s critics noted his willingness to amply praise authoritarian China where Musk’s Tesla Motors has a manufacturing plant even as he called U.S. officials “fascists” for their efforts to contain the deadly COVID-19 virus.
For his part, Jared Isaacman, the billionaire who funded and commanded the Inspiration4 flight, says Biden’s silence is no big deal.
Billionaire once predicted deadly coronavirus would largely disappear by April
Musk called government efforts to contain spread of COVID-19 “fascist”
He twice defied orders from health officials on closing his Tesla auto plant
by Douglas Messier Managing Editor
Elon Musk, who just six weeks dismissed the possibility that he would be infected with COVID-19, might in fact have caught the deadly virus. On Thursday, the SpaceX CEO tweeted:
Something extremely bogus is going on. Was tested for covid four times today. Two tests came back negative, two came back positive. Same machine, same test, same nurse. Rapid antigen test from BD,” Musk tweeted on Thursday.
Angered by Elon Musk’s threat to move Tesla Motors out of the Golden State, the California’s Employment Training Panel denied an application from Musk’s SpaceX for $655,500 in state job and training funds.
“In my opinion, given the recent threats of the CEO to leave the state of California, and everything else we’ve discussed today, this proposal does not rise to the level for me to feel secure in supporting it,” said Gretchen Newsom, a panel member and the political director of an IBEW electrical workers union local.
“SpaceX is a different company, but they have the same CEO,” said Newsom, who is not related to California Governor Gavin Newsom.
Musk threatened to pull his electric car company out of California after Alameda County officials wanted him to delay reopening Tesla’s production facility in Fremont, Calif.
The plant had been closed in late March due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. County officials were not satisfied with Tesla’s plan to protect workers from the virus. Musk reopened the facility without the county’s approval.
Elon Musk has been downplaying the risk of the Coronavirus to his employees and millions of Twitter followers while thousands of people have become sick and died, hospitals have run short of food and medical supplies, and normal life has come to a grinding halt around the globe,
The coronavirus panic is dumb,” Musk said in a tweet last week that has been criticized as minimizing the risks of what the World Health Organization has declared to be a deadly global pandemic.
BuzzFeed Newsreports on a company-wide email Musk sent to SpaceX employees:
That’s the assessment of SpaceX President & COO Gwynne Shotwell, who was asked about her boss Elon Musk’s erratic behavior in recent months during World Satellite Business Week conference in Paris. Bloomberg reports:
“Elon is a brilliant man,” Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX’s president and chief operating officer, said Tuesday after speaking at a satellite industry conference in Paris. “He is as lucid and capable as he has ever been. I wish people would not focus on triviality.”
There’s “no chance” that Musk’s conduct will impact SpaceX’s ability to win contracts, and there’s been “no impact at all” on the level of confidence in him on the part of the closely held company’s backers, Shotwell said.
“Look at the work that Elon’s companies do and focus on that. Not on what he does” in his own time, she said.
Shotwell also said that although she loves cars, she has no interest in taking a similar position at Musk’s struggling car company, Tesla Motors.
CNBC has an update on Elon Musk’s pursuit of making Tesla Motors a private company once again.
Morgan Stanley is telling its clients Elon Musk’s stake in SpaceX may be leveraged as a source of funding for his plan to take Tesla private….
“Elon Musk’s desire to potentially take Tesla private may require large amounts of new equity capital. We see scope for SpaceX to play a potentially crucial role in facilitating the required financing as well as the strategic narrative going forward,” analyst Adam Jonas said in a note entitled “How SpaceX Can Potentially Help Tesla Go Private” to clients Monday. “We believe investors should consider the potential role of SpaceX in the near-term financial options confronting Tesla and its shareholders.”
….In a blog post later that day, Musk said “the intention is not to merge SpaceX and Tesla.”
Despite the comment, Jonas said SpaceX could invest directly in Tesla as part of a strategic partnership.
“While we are in no position to dispute this statement on a merging of the two entities, we do not expect Elon Musk to rule out the potential for the involvement of SpaceX as a capital-providing strategic partner or the potential for the value of SpaceX equity held within Mr. Musk’s trust to be considered in the financing of a potential Tesla buyout,” Jonas said. “We see increasingly compelling areas of industrial and strategic cooperation between SpaceX and Tesla in telecommunications / satellite broadband which we see as potentially advantageous for shared and automated transport networks.”
Show of hands if all this sounds a bit familiar. Tesla Motors took over SolarCity in what Musk called a “no-brainer” of synergies and which critics charged was a conflict of interest riddled bailout of a failing company about to go under that benefited Musk and two cousins. The deal added to Tesla’s already enormous debt load.
Some critics are predicting Tesla will go bankrupt this year; Musk disputes that. SpaceX is also in better shape than Tesla was when it absorbed SolarCity.
Days after promising to behave himself better on Twitter, Elon Musk had what was arguably his worst public meltdown yet on Sunday when he leveled a charge of pedophilia against a diver who had been instrumental in saving a Thai soccer team and its coach trapped in a flooded cave.
Musk made the charge — without providing any evidence — against Vern Unsworth, a British diver who lives in Thailand, who last week criticized submarines that a team at Musk’s SpaceX built for the rescue effort as “just a PR stunt” that had “absolutely no chance of working” in the twisted confines of the cave.