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SpaceX employees decry Elon Musk's 'embarrassing' behavior: report

Elon Musk and the SpaceX team are recognized by Vice President Mike Pence at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center following the launch of the company’s Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station in May 2020.
SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk and the SpaceX team are recognized by Vice President Mike Pence at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center following the launch of the company’s Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station. (Image credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

A group of anonymous SpaceX employees say that founder and CEO Elon Musk's recent behavior reflects badly on the company.

An open letter to company executives was posted in an internal SpaceX Microsoft Teams channel with more than 2,600 employees, the Verge reported (opens in new tab) on Thursday (June 16). The letter asks the founder of SpaceX and Tesla to change his ways.

"Elon's behavior in the public sphere is a frequent source of distraction and embarrassment for us, particularly in recent weeks," the letter states. 

Much of that behavior unfolds on Twitter, which Musk is trying to buy. The billionaire is very active on the platform, sometimes using it to make crude jokes (opens in new tab) or insult people (opens in new tab). In 2018, for example, he implied that a man involved in rescuing Thai boys from a flooded cave is a pedophile (opens in new tab).

"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," the letter adds. "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."

Elon Musk: Revolutionary private space entrepreneur

It is unclear who wrote the letter, although the document itself claims employees "across the spectra of gender, ethnicity, seniority and technical roles have collaborated on" its authorship, The Verge said. The employees who posted the letter did not respond to requests for comment from that website.

The document suggests three different "action items" to remedy what is happening. These items include SpaceX leadership denouncing "Elon's harmful Twitter behavior," condemning other senior company leaders for similar conduct, and defining "what exactly is intended by SpaceX’s 'no-asshole' and 'zero tolerance' policies and enforce them consistently."

Musk, Time Magazine's 2021 person of the year, has also denied an allegation of sexual misconduct concerning his activities with a flight attendant in 2016, a story that was broken by Business Insider (opens in new tab)

And multiple former SpaceX employees recently alleged that the company as a whole doesn't do enough to punish or discourage sexual harassment in the workplace, The Verge reported in another story (opens in new tab)

After Business Insider's sexual harassment story about Musk came out, SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell sent a company-wide email (opens in new tab) to employees defending Musk, according to The Verge's story today.

"Personally, I believe the allegations to be false; not because I work for Elon, but because I have worked closely with him for 20 years and never seen nor heard anything resembling these allegations," Shotwell wrote. "Anyone who knows Elon like I do knows he would never conduct or condone this alleged inappropriate behavior."

SpaceX is engaged in numerous government, military and commercial projects. For example, NASA picked SpaceX's huge Starship vehicle to land astronauts on the moon a few years from now. The agency also awarded SpaceX contracts to fly cargo and astronauts to the International Space Station. And the company supplies Starlink satellite-internet service to customers around the world.

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Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) since 2012. As a proud Trekkie and Canadian, she tackles topics like spaceflight, diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to help others explore the universe. Elizabeth's on-site reporting includes two human spaceflight launches from Kazakhstan, and embedded reporting from a simulated Mars mission in Utah. She holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc (opens in new tab). in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, and a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University. Her latest book, NASA Leadership Moments, is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday.