He’s perhaps most well-known for founding the Tesla brand of electric vehicles that’s revolutionizing the way that people drive. But Elon Musk’s other big project, SpaceX (Space Exploration Technologies Corp.), recently landed itself in the crosshairs of a nasty legal battle after a former employee brought up charges alleging that the company was cutting corners and ignoring safety procedures, thus putting people’s lives at risk.
Jason Blasdell had worked for SpaceX for nearly three years before he was fired in 2014, which he says was an act of retribution for raising his concerns to his superiors. According to Blasdell, SpaceX, which builds rocket ships for N.A.S.A. (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), was not only failing to conduct proper testing on parts used in spacecraft, but also falsifying test results in safety reports.
Blasdell’s case will be heard by a Los Angeles state court jury, which will pour through the evidence he and his lawyer are presenting that allegedly shows gross negligence and illegal activity that took place at SpaceX. The company, he says, deliberately cut corners and lied to the federal government about its products, which consequently put astronauts and others at risk of being injured or killed during launch or while in orbit.
According to Bloomberg, Blasdell had repeatedly attempted to tell his bosses about the problems he was seeing. He even went all the way up to Musk himself, who allegedly listened and promised to take action, only to never follow through with his promises.
“He went up the chain of command as he had learned in the Marines was the proper procedure,” stated Carney Shegerian, Blasdell’s lawyer, before jurors in his opening statement about Blasdell’s actions while still employed at SpaceX. “He had nothing personal to benefit from this other than to do the right thing.”
SpaceX denies Blasdell’s claims, insisting that Blasdell was fired because of poor job performance. According to the company, Blasdell’s coworkers had become concerned about their own safety because of his presence. SpaceX’s lawyer also purports that Blasdell is not a whistleblower, and that the case is not a whistleblower case.
But this will be up to the jury to decide, which reportedly has about two weeks to come to a decision. California Superior Court Judge William Fahey has already ruled that the jury will not be permitted to second guess the scientific decisions of SpaceX’s engineers, nor will it be allowed to question the business judgment of its managers.
Meanwhile, SpaceX continues to work on projects for N.A.S.A. and other commercial satellite operators, with plans to fly as many as 24 missions for these customers in 2017. With N.A.S.A. alone, SpaceX boasts about $4.2 billion in contracts, including a project to resupply the International Space Station using an unmanned Dragon spacecraft. It will also supply apparatus for the launch of a similar spacecraft that will ferry crews to the International Space Station.
Will these missions be safe? One can only hope. But in Blasdell’s view, they do come with a higher degree of risk due to practices taking place at the company that “were extremely dangerous and could possibly lead to a damaged or faulty part ending up in a SpaceX rocket, which could result in a rocket exploding in orbit, and worse, could result in the catastrophic loss of human life,” his complaint alleges.
In another recent lawsuit, SpaceX was accused of underpaying its employees. According to reports, the company settled the case by dishing out $4 million as part of the class action.
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