Ashley Kosak, a former SpaceX mission integration engineer and now 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 construction reliability engineer and mission integration engineer. She worked on integrating the Crew Dragon capsule into the historic Demo-2 flight that returned the crew’s launch capability to the United States. But during all this, she was subjected to harassment.
Sexual harassment at SpaceX
Her letter, published on Lioness, describes her experience:
A few weeks after my start date, a co-trainee approached me in our trainee residence and grabbed my butt while I was washing up. I reported the incident to a superior and another colleague, but the case was never brought to HR. I had to keep living in the residence with this man.
These experiences continued from her start in the company to the present. As she describes:
In the last year alone, I have had to bring several different cases of sexism to HR. Some of the men who work at SpaceX hug women without consent, stare at women while they work, and interpret any business-related social event as an opportunity to date (or hit) women in the office. I saw a woman pressured to dance 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 and sent me a message to ask me out. One called my phone at 4:00. Another colleague came to my house and insisted on touching me, even when I repeatedly asked that we remain professionals.
According to the letter, each of these experiences was reported to HR without any action being taken. “I was told that cases of this nature were too private to openly discuss with the perpetrators.”
Cossack himself tried to lead the reform and introduced a standardized plan for how to deal with harassment:
I presented ideas for a standardized framework for punishing sexual harassment against HR as they had not implemented any remedies; these ideas went unanswered. I recorded a meeting I had with HR because I found it so incredible that there was no system in place to deal with this behavior.
She went on to question whether this behavior would be the standard in Musk’s future Mars colony:
These conditions would be unsettling anywhere, but in this very workplace we are paving a path to settle a new planet. What will life on Elon’s Mars be like? Probably a lot like life on SpaceX. Elon uses engineers as a resource to be extracted instead of a team to be led. Earth health is rarely a consideration in company projects. Feminism is widespread.
Environmental considerations at SpaceX
Following the cultural issues throughout SpaceX, the letter addressed how the company’s high-speed and optimistic goals lead to environmental considerations being ignored:
Terrified of the lack of an environmental plan, I made a plan that would bring SpaceX to full CO2 neutrality by 2030. It provided a framework for a diverse and functional society that would learn from our colonial past and incorporate native expertise. I brought this plan directly to Elon Musk, who rejected it with an email saying, “We have wind and solar energy.”
But the new buildings on campus run on gas generators, and the company’s funding is not dedicated to reducing carbon emissions. While there are solar panels on campus, any attempt to make new buildings and infrastructure sustainable (LEED) is downgraded in favor of expanding the factory as soon as possible.
Leaving the company
In the end, the stress that had increased from my years working at SpaceX ruined my health in ways I had never experienced before. In November 2021, my psychiatrist wrote to the company to recommend that I take leave due to panic attacks that gave me palpitations. When I took a week’s sick leave to recover, I received a hectic cadence of calls from HR asking to speak – presumably to get me to sign a confidentiality agreement in exchange for money.
Ashley Kosak left SpaceX last month. She now works at Apple as an operations program manager.
Space Exploreds bid
I would like to start by asking everyone who reads this to read her letter in its entirety. It solves several issues that are prevalent throughout the company.
Unfortunately, this is another example of women in STEM areas being subjected to regular harassment. The edge spoke with four additional 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, saying they were part of a very small group of women and non-binary people who worked in the company. It made them feel serious in the minority. The former employees also believe that the company is reluctant to hold some men responsible for bad behavior, especially if those men have spent a lot of time on SpaceX or have contributed great things to the company.
Loren Grush, The edge
We saw a similar letter published by Blue Origin employees in September. Women at Jeff Bezos’ rocket company were subjected to similar cases of harassment as those of Elon Musk.