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February 2, 2022 23 mins

Today we look at how Amazon went into space. Bezos frames his Blue Origin commercial space project as a mission to help the human race, but is it just a dangerous billionaire fare ground ride?

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Episode Transcript

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Speaker 1 (00:01):
I want to thank every Amazon employee and every Amazon
customer because you guys paid progress. You guys paid probs.
This is Megacore, an investigative podcast exposing some of the
world's most unethical corporations. This series is about Amazon. I'm

(00:22):
Jake Hanrahan, journalists and documentary filmmaker. Megacorp is produced by
H eleven for Cool Zone Media. Today we're going to
be looking into Jeff Bezos is Blue Origin. Now this

(00:43):
is going to sound a bit weird, but when I
think of the Blue Origin project, I'm always reminded of
this scene from the video game Command and Conquer Red Alert,
I'm escaping to the one place that hasn't been did
by capitalism. Space. Not even Command and Conquer, a war

(01:09):
game set in an alternate reality, could predict that megacorporations
would start to commercialize space. But here we are two
and Bezos, the richest man on Earth, is sending other
rich people into space. Will sort of into space. Blue
Origin doesn't actually quite get there, but we'll go into

(01:29):
that later in the episode. Now, if you don't know
what Blue Origin is, let's start at the beginning. Preparing
for a rocket towered mile per hour excursion to the
edge of space. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos will take his
astral journey on the New Shepherd, a reusable rocket developed
by his company Blue Origet start to one, New Shepherd

(01:56):
was designed to shuttle up to six paying customers more
than sixty two miles above the worth surfaced for a
few moments of waitlessness and panoramic views burning the fires
their astronaut wings. So Blue Origin is Jeff Bezos is
private space flight company, Bezos, of course being the founder
of Amazon. Despite only really getting media attention in the

(02:20):
last year or so due to its several rocket launches,
Blue Origin was actually incorporated on the eighth of September
in the year two thousand. Bezos clearly had this idea
in his head for a long time before he made
it a reality. Blue Origin has several different facets to it,
but the main aim of the company is to make

(02:41):
it easier and cheaper for people to visit space, not
just astronauts or scientists or NASA, anybody who can afford it.
On their website, Blue Origins say they are quote committed
to building a road to space so our children can
build the future. End quote. It sounds a bit ominous

(03:02):
to me. To be honest, it's weird considering we're talking
about potentially colonizing space here. I'd say there's plenty to
be fixed on Earth before we think about that. But anyway,
so Blue Origin goes on to say, quote Blue Origin
was founded by Jeff Bezos with the vision of enabling
a future where millions of people are living and working

(03:23):
in space for the benefit of Earth. In order to
preserve Earth, Blue Origin believes that humanity will need to
expand explore, find new energy and material resources, and move
industries that stress Earth into space. Blue is working on
this today by developing partially and fully reusable launch vehicles

(03:45):
that are safe, low cost, and serve the needs of
all civil, commercial, and defense customers. Blue Origin has been
flight testing the new Shepherd rocket and it's redundant safety
systems since The program has had eighteen successful consecutive missions,
including three successful escape tests, showing the crew escape system

(04:09):
can activate safely in any phase of flight. End quote.
Now this might not be relevant, but as a side
note here, as I was researching all of this, it
struck me that the Blue Origin website feels quite amateur
considering the gravity of what they're doing. For example, it's
quite badly written with extremely long sentences. Their copyright is

(04:33):
out of day on the foot of the page. Some
of the photos used are out of focus or people
are called mid blink, and the logo isn't even at
the top of the site. I don't know, I'm an
absolute knock case for stuff like that, but I couldn't
go into space with them off the back of their
website anyway. That's Blue Origin. You might remember when Bezos

(04:54):
first went into sort of space on one of the
New Shepherd rockets on the the eight of July. After
landing back on the ground, he came out with this
now infamous speech, I want to thank every Amazon employee
and every Amazon customer because you guys paid for all

(05:17):
this so seriously, for every Amazon customer out there and
every Amazon employee, thank you from the bottom of my
heart very much. It's very appreciated. At the time, when
Bezos came out with this at the press conference, surrounded
by other rich people who had just gone to sub

(05:38):
orbital space with him, Amazon was in the news for
surprise mistreatment of workers and union busting. As you can
imagine Bezos turning around and saying thanks for your custom
it's allowed me to fly off into space was not
really well received by the Amazon workers and anyone that
has an issue with Amazon workers being mistreated. Anyway. Blue

(06:00):
Origin stresses that to keep costs down, their rockets are
all about reusability, they say quote. Both New Shepherd and
New Glen, one of their other shuttles, have been designed
with reusability in mind from the beginning. Their vertical takeoff
vertical landing architecture enables us to reuse the first stage

(06:23):
of our launch vehicles twenty five times with minimal refurbishment,
resulting in twenty five times less waste because we don't
throw the hardware away. Both vehicles have throttle herble liquid
fueled engines, allowing for precision landing back on the landing platform.
This allows for higher asset utilization for all our vehicles,

(06:46):
which decreases the costs and increases availability for all our customers.
End quote. Doesn't seem that the person who wrote that
has ever heard of punctuation um and again on a side, No,
that wasn't quite verbatim, as I had to correct spelling
mistakes and glaringly obvious syntax typos from a Blue Origins

(07:08):
official website. But anyway, so, as I just said, Bezos
is Blue Origin is saying twenty five times less hardware waste.
But what about the environmental impact. According to the twenty
twenty two World Inequality Report, one space flight emits more
carbon dioxide the most of the world's population creates in

(07:31):
their entire lifetime. To me, knowing that, it seems a
bit ironic for Blue Origin to be talking about paving
the way to a brighter future for our kids when
they're very emmo of regular commercial space flights will destroy
the Earth's environment quicker. Now. It's not about do you
believe in climate change or anything like that. This is

(07:52):
just a fact of what is happening now. Whilst Blue
Origin says it wants to make commercial space travel cheap,
they don't mean the same kind of cheap as the
way most people understand it cheap to me, for example,
is say thirty pence for a point of milk. My
point is the people who will be taking these space

(08:12):
flights will almost definitely already be very rich for them.
Sure it might be cheap, but for your average man
and woman on the street, Blue Origins space trips will
be completely and utterly unobtainable forever. So in theory, whilst
these rich people are flying around like the Jetsons claiming

(08:35):
to be advancing society for us every day man and
woman are getting blasted in the long run with unprecedented
levels of carbon dioxide build up in the atmosphere. Now,
why does carbon dioxide matter, Well, if there's too much
carbon dioxide, the Earth gets too hot. If the Earth

(08:55):
gets too hot, we're all fucked. Basically, the oceans will
go top sick, food will become scarce, crops won't grow,
and brutal climate wars will undoubtedly erupt. Carbon dioxide levels
have been steadily rising on Earth for the past one
years now, hitting levels that scientists say have been unprecedented

(09:17):
for hundreds of thousands of years. So we already reckon
the shop due to excessive pollution where the carbon dioxide
level has come from. Now, the rich commercial space people
want to save us by dumping out a load more
carbon dioxide via space shuttles, will never be able to
afford to riding. Doesn't sound like a great deal to me.

(09:40):
Here's something from the World Inequality Report that I just
mentioned that really sums up all of this. In a
more technical manner. Quote. Perhaps the most conspicuous illustration of
extreme pollution associated with wealth inequality in recent years is
the development of space travel and eleven minutes flight emitst

(10:02):
no fewer than seventy five tons of carbon per passenger.
About one billion individuals emits less than one ton per
person per year over their lifetime. This group of one
billion individuals does not omit more than seventy five tons
of carbon per person. Ends quote. Now, they didn't say

(10:27):
which commercial space company they're referring to here, but bear
in mind that Bezos is Blue origin flight in July
was about eleven minutes long, and this article mentions and
eleven minutes space flight. Well, this isn't just speculation either.

(10:52):
In the U S government themselves released the report acknowledging
that climate change will hit low income community tease the hardest.
The report, known as the fourth National Climate Assessment, was
created by a team of more than three hundred experts
from the US government and the private sector. Their aim
was to analyze the impact of climate change on America.

(11:17):
As reported by journalist Carmen Chappelle, the government reports states
that low income populations quotes typically have less access to information, resources, institutions,
and other factors to prepare for and avoid the health
risks of climate change. People with a lower income usually

(11:37):
live in neighborhoods with the greatest exposure to climate and
extreme whether events end quote so again, the people who
will be hit the hardest should the world eventually crumble
under the weight of too much carbon monoxide will be
those with less money, likely the sort of people who
end up working in an Amazon warehouse. All of this

(11:59):
is core le just to get to the outer limits
of our atmosphere. That would obviously be a very cool experience.
It looks really cool when you see the videos of
Blue Origin. It's a lot of damage to the environment
to not actually get out into space proper. These flights
are sub orbital, they go to the edge of space,
but not Neil Armstrong or buzz Older in space right now.

(12:22):
It's just a very rich person's fairground ride dressed up
as the future of civilization. I wanted to talk about
the dangers it poses to the environment, not to be preachy,
but to show that when Blue Origin is talking about
building a future for our kids, they're either not taken
into account how badly this could affect people from lower

(12:43):
socio economic backgrounds, or they just don't care. You can
decide which when it is yourself. The carbon monoxide dumping
is not the only issue related to Blue Origin. As
is with every tentacle of the beast that is Amazon,
there is always a scandal of foot. Blue Origin is

(13:04):
no different. Serious allegations of past safety practices and the
workplace culture at Blue Origin. That's a space company founded
by billionaire Jeff Bezos. Ally Abrahams is one of a
group of current informer Blue Origin employees who have issued
a public letter exposing what they describe as a toxic
atmosphere at the Amazon founders commercial space company. She believes

(13:28):
the company's sacrifice safety because Bezos wanted to win the
space race last year. In September, one group of former
and current Blue Origin employees signed an open letter about
the company, a legend that Bezos had created an unsafe
working environment in a bid to win the billionaire commercial

(13:49):
space race. Twenty one people signed the letter, and they're
warning that the Blue Origin rockets could be unsafe. One
of the Blue Orig engineers who signed the open letter
went as far as to say, quote Blue Origin has
been lucky that nothing has happened so far. End quote.

(14:11):
The open letter goes on to say, quote today Blue
Origin is selling seats on rockets, stating safety is their
top mission, despite the fact that very few regulations are
in place to ensure that this is truly the case. Internally,
many of us did not see leadership invest in prioritizing
sound systems engineering practices. Systems engineering products were created for

(14:36):
New Shepherd after it was built and flying, rather than
in the design phase. This impacted verification efforts end quote.
The letter also claims that Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith
personally made sure that an authoritarian environment was built at
Blue Origin to try and stifle any issues employees working

(14:58):
there might have. As we know from previous episodes of Megacorp,
this is a tried and tested tactic at Amazon in
the case of Bezos is Blue Origin. Smith's alleged behavior
main lead to serious safety issues. From the letter, quote
professional dissent at Blue Origin is actively stifled. Smith personally

(15:23):
told one of us to not make it easy for
employees to ask questions at company town Halls, one of
the only available forums for live open discussion. Smith also
asked his CEO for a list of employees who were
troublemakers or agitators. The list was then distributed to senior
leaders so they could have a talk with the agitators

(15:46):
in their groups. Critics inside the company have been forced
out for speaking up and offering payment in exchange for
signing even more restrictive nondisclosure agreements, including some of the
engineers who ensure the very safety of the rockets. Smith's
in a circle of loyalists, makes unilateral decisions, often without

(16:08):
the buying of engineers, other experts, or senior leaders across
various departments. End quote. So, according to these twenty one
current and former Blue Origin employees who wrote this s
A slash open letter, the place is run with a
STARSI like attitude where profit and speed is more important

(16:30):
than safety and well being. Where we heard that before,
It's like as above in space with Blue Origin, so
below in the Amazon warehouse. Let's hear what Blue Origin

(16:50):
whistleblower Alexandra Abrahams had to say about her time at
Blue Origin. When I first joined Blue Origin, I felt
like I was in star Trek, and I think I
came to tears once when I was saying how grateful
I was to be a part of this journey. The
culture was one of collaboration, innovation, excitement, enthusiasm, nerdiness, which

(17:15):
I just loved. But that did not stay the same
for very long. She worked there as the head of
internal communications from Seen to before she was fired, she says,
because her managers claimed to have lost trust in her.
I spend my days telling employees how we're saving humanity

(17:36):
in the planet, and on the other end and having
the woolf holed over my eyes about taking rights away
from our employees. It was great that Blue Origin was
smooth and steady and slow until Jeff started becoming impatient
and Ellen and Branson were getting ahead, and then we

(17:57):
started to feel this increasing pressure and in patients that
would definitely filter down from leadership. When she's referring to
Musk and Branson there, she's referring, of course, to Elon
Musk and Richard Branson. Elon Musk owns space X, He's
also been sending commercial rockets up into space, and Richard
Branson has a similar thing with a virgin commercial space

(18:21):
shuttle thing. According to Alexandra Abraham's the pressure to beat
those law led to an environment of fear in the workplace.
You cannot create a culture of safety and a culture
of fear at the same time. They are incompatible. Oftentimes,
when I would try to reconcile what I was hearing

(18:43):
from the engineers who are close to the vehicle versus
leadership about risk and safety, I would often go to
leadership and say, Okay, how am I supposed to think
about this? And often the response would be, oh, well,
that person in particular just doesn't have a high enough
risk tolerance. Just doesn't have a high enough risk tolerance.
That wasn't bad enough. There are several allegations of sexism

(19:07):
and harassment at Blue Origin. Women in Blue Origin were
absolutely treated differently than men. Their ideas were not valued
as much, they were not listened to. So on the surface,
Blue Origin sounds like our gateway to a sci fire
type future. The human race will jump on a Jeff

(19:29):
Bezos space shuttle and go to work on different planets
to sort of save everyone else on Earth. In reality, though,
the sheer amount of carbon dioxide each trip dumped into
the atmosphere could potentially rapidly increase the levels of pollution
and global warming here on Earth. Not only that from

(19:50):
what we've just heard there was some very serious allegations
of safety concerns at Blue Origin. Actual engineers have s
and the open letter saying things like this quote. In
company leaders demonstrated increasing impatience with new Shepherd schedule of
a few flights per year. Their goal, routinely communicated to

(20:14):
operations and maintenance staff, was to scale to more than
forty Some of us felt that with the resources and
staff available, leadership's race to launch at such a breakneck
speed was seriously compromising flight safety. End quote. Now after
hearing that, bear in mind that apparently thirteen of the

(20:38):
twenty one people who signed this open letter are engineers
that work or have worked at various different levels in
Blue Origin. This isn't just somebody pulling this out of
thin air. These people know what they're doing. As if
the safety allegations weren't bad enough, there's this to top
it off. Allegations that a quotes former executive frequently treated

(21:03):
women in a condescending and the meaning manner, calling them
baby girl, baby doll, or sweetheart, and inquiring about their
dating lives. His inappropriate behavior was so well known that
some women at the company took to warning new female
hires to stay away from him all while he was
in charge of recruiting employees. It appeared that he was

(21:26):
protected by his close personal relationship with Bezos. It took
him physically groping female subordinate for him to finally be
let go end quote. Like with other things under the
umbrella of Amazon, it sounds to me like top to bottom,
there are very serious problems at Blue Origin. The thing

(21:48):
that really spooked me the most, though, was something said
by one of the engineers internally. CBS News obtained this.
It's a Blue Origin internal memo written by one of
their engineers. In In it, the engineer wrote, quote, our
path is not a sufficiently safe path. End quote, Blue

(22:10):
Origin not a sufficiently safe path. On the next episode
of Megacorp, will be looking at a specific set of
individual scandals at Amazon that don't really fit into their
own box. They concern Amazon warehouse workers, drivers, and the

(22:32):
choice of security guards that Amazon have once hired. Megacorp
is made by my production company H eleven for Cool
Zone Media. It's written, researched, and produced by myself, Jake Hanrahan.
It was also produced by Sophie Lichtman. Music is by

(22:56):
some Black Graphics by Adam Doyle and sound Engine earring
by splicing block. If you want to get in touch,
follow me on social media at Jake Underscore Handrahan. That's
h a n A h a n
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