Executive Insights

Former NASA official warns SpaceX 'bro culture' could cause Elon Musk to lose his lead

Business Insider US

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk beside a Falcon 9 launch.
REUTERS/Mike Brown/Getty Images
  • Former NASA official Lori Garver said SpaceX could lose workforce amid reports about its work culture.
  • Garver has been outspoken in her support of Elon Musk and SpaceX in the past.
  • Last month, SpaceX workers wrote a letter criticising Musk's behaviour on Twitter.
  • For more stories, go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

Former NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver warned SpaceX could struggle to recruit and maintain its workforce if it doesn't fix its "bro culture."

"These rockets don't build themselves," Garver told CNN Business. "The best and the brightest, they aren't going to put up with behaviour that is truly a distraction."

"The bro culture could succeed in the past because the predominant number of engineers were white males," she added. "That is no longer the case. And we absolutely benefit from all comers. All views."

A spokesperson for SpaceX did not respond to a request for comment from Insider.

Garver told CNN Business she was disappointed to hear reports alleging employee concerns about SpaceX's work culture.

Last month, SpaceX employees penned a letter to company president Gwynne Shotwell criticizing Elon Musk's behaviour, which they dubbed "a frequent source of distraction and embarrassment." The next day The New York Times reported that the space venture had terminated several employees that helped organise the letter.

In addition to mentioning Musk's tweets, the letter referenced a recent sexual misconduct allegation against the SpaceX CEO that Insider first reported. It alleged the company paid a former flight attendant $250,000 after she accused Musk of sexually harassing her. Musk told Insider at the time that there was "a lot more to the story," but later joked about the allegations on Twitter.


"If I were inclined to engage in sexual harassment, this is unlikely to be the first time in my entire 30-year career that it comes to light," Musk told Insider at the time.

Last year, a former SpaceX engineer said "misogyny is rampant" at the company and claimed she was sexually harassed. Four more former employees described similar experiences, The Verge reported.

In her memoir that was published last month, "Escaping Gravity: My Quest to Transform NASA and Launch a New Space Age," Garver said she continually went to bat for Musk and SpaceX despite criticism from NASA. In one instance, she said she was told to "get your boy Elon in line."

"SpaceX has a huge lead and is running faster than any of the competition, including all the big aerospace companies," Garver wrote in her book. "To me, that is both fantastic and scary at the same time."

Garver's memoir follows the commercialisation of the US space industry during Garver's time as NASA's deputy administrator during the Obama administration, highlighting the agency's early interactions with SpaceX and Garver's efforts to make space launches more affordable.

She told CNN Business that if companies like SpaceX don't start to address sexism, "they will lose workforce."

In the memoir, the former NASA official detailed several instances where sexism in the aerospace industry negatively impacted her career.

"Many who disagreed with my views attacked me with vulgar, gendered language, depredation, and physical threats," Garver wrote. "I've been called an ugly whore, a motherfucking bitch, and a cunt; told I need to get laid, and asked if I'm on my period or going through menopause."

Despite her criticism of sexism in the industry, Garver's book often reads as an ode to SpaceX and Musk.

"My story is difficult to separate from Elon's because I wouldn't have managed to pull off much of a transformation at NASA without him and SpaceX. We've bled for the same cause and amassed the same enemies," she wrote. "We each needed the other to succeed." 

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