From the man who brought you TITS U, I present SpaceX: an environmentally irresponsible company so rife with sexism, the only remedy is for women to leave.
By Ashley Kosak, former Mission Integration Engineer at SpaceX
I found my way through an abusive upbringing, leaving home at a young age, subsequent homelessness, and sexual assault in college, and eventually got a job at the “leading engineering company” in the world. Yet I simply could not find a way to navigate the conditions at SpaceX—a workplace I consider to be in a state of disrepair and dysfunction so great that the only remedy, finally, was to leave.
I started at SpaceX as an intern in 2017, joined the team full time in 2019 as a build reliability engineer, and was later promoted to mission integration engineer. I worked at Cape Canaveral, integrating the flagship crewed mission and Demo-2; I personally evaluated technical risk for the vehicle, among several other roles at the company. For a woman, particularly an Asian American woman, to reach a position at this level in the space industry is next to impossible.
A few weeks after my start date, a fellow intern approached me in our intern housing and grabbed my butt while I was washing my dishes. I reported the incident to a superior and another colleague, but the matter was never brought to HR. I had to continue living in the residence with this man.
Over my next two years as a SpaceX intern, countless men made sexual advances toward me. In 2018, during a team bonding event, a male colleague ran his hand over my shirt, from my lower waist to my chest. I told my supervisors what he had done, then met with HR and reported the inappropriate behavior, but no one followed up. This man remained part of the team I reported to and worked for. Given my tenuous position at the company, I felt powerless.
In the past year alone, I have had to bring multiple different incidents of sexism to HR. Some of the men who work at SpaceX hug women without consent, stare at women while they work, and interpret every company-related social event as an opportunity to date (or hit on) women in the office. I saw one woman pressured into dancing 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, messaging me to ask me out. One called my phone at 4:00 am. Another coworker came to my house and insisted on touching me even when I repeatedly requested we stay professional.
I reported each incident of sexual harassment I experienced to HR, and nothing was done. I was told that matters of this nature were too private to openly discuss with the perpetrators. Instead, they said mandated company training programs would be held. I presented ideas for a standardized framework for penalizing sexual harassers to HR, as they had not implemented any remedies; those ideas went unresponded to. I recorded a meeting I had with HR, because I found it so unbelievable that there was no system in place to deal with this behavior. In the end, nothing happened—except I was given a warning that recording the meeting was in violation of SpaceX policy and Florida law. Each and every man who harassed me was tolerated despite the company’s so-called no-tolerance and no-asshole policy.
I did my best to compartmentalize the things I put up with as a woman at work each day. Why did I continue working at a company like this? Well, rocket science is not something you learn overnight; it’s a phenomenal field of expertise that is shared within the company, and a magic you learn to harness. I took great joy in that. We were promised we could change the world, and every time we met a goal it felt like all this pain, distrust, and sacrifice was worth it.
It may also be that the atmosphere at work felt familiar to me. Elon Musk’s behavior bears a remarkable similarity to the behavior of a sadistic and abusive man who had previously been part of my life. Elon makes promises he doesn’t hold himself accountable to, shifts the goalpost constantly, unnecessarily strips resources from people who are working themselves to the brink of burnout, and then sends threatening messages to remind them that their efforts will never be adequate.
These conditions would be disturbing anywhere, but in this particular workplace, we are blazing a trail to settle a new planet. What will life on Elon’s Mars be like? Probably much like life at SpaceX. Elon uses engineers as a resource to be mined rather than a team to be led. The health of Earth is rarely a consideration in the company’s projects. Misogyny is rampant.
Dismayed by the lack of an environmental plan, I created a plan that would bring SpaceX to full carbon neutrality by 2030. It contained a framework for a diverse and functional society that would learn from our colonial past and incorporate indigenous expertise. I brought this plan directly to Elon Musk, who dismissed it with an email that said: “We have wind and solar energy.”
But the new buildings on the campus run on gas generators, and company funding is not being dedicated to reducing carbon emissions. While there are solar panels on campus, any attempts to make new buildings and infrastructure sustainable (LEED) are deprioritized in favor of expanding the factory as fast as possible.
I continued developing my carbon neutrality plan despite Elon’s lack of enthusiasm for it, and engineers throughout the company reached out to volunteer their time to aid in this effort. We worked to compile an emissions report, implement composting at the company’s facilities in California and Florida, and reduce plastics in the food area. As fellow scientists, we saw things Elon did not; we thought we could nudge SpaceX in ethical, sustainable, more just directions.
I also stayed at SpaceX because the promise of the company is a carrot that spoke to everything I dreamed of as a first-generation American and woman in STEM: the chance to be part of a team that does the impossible and makes history, the hope of financial security, the creation of intergenerational wealth through sheer hard work.
This carrot is held over our heads as SpaceX employees. If we can stay another year, another 5 years, then the 20-hour days, the constantly shifting priorities and goals, and maybe even the sexism will be worth it. It's a cognitive dissonance reassuring you that the more you are hurt, the higher the payoff will be. And that is what SpaceX banks on.
Meanwhile, Elon manufactures a scarcity complex, making public statements that say "we're going to go bankrupt”—yet, his personal net worth is one of the highest on the planet. His company is valued at $100 billion. The engineers and other employees who continue to meet impressive and innovative milestones and bring the SpaceX mission to life will, of course, make some money on stock options if they stay at the company, but only a tiny fraction of the wealth that large shareholders will see. If more money is needed, Elon could “work harder” (as he frequently admonishes his engineers to do) to tap fundraising sources, rather than threaten bankruptcy. Instead, he pushes engineers to the point of burnout, berates employees for not meeting the expectations he shifts at whiplash speed, or threatens workers with job loss if they don’t increase their output.
After more experiences with sexual harassment as well as gender and race bias, I finally submitted a message to the SpaceX anonymous Ethics and Compliance tip line. I felt unready to attach my name to the complaint—but despite its advertised anonymity, the tip line was actually a Microsoft form that allows the admins to see the submitter’s identity. A week later, I was contacted by HR and confronted with invasive questions regarding the nature of the harassment.
Shortly after, I met with COO Gwynne Shotwell and Head of HR Brian Bjelde to explain to them how tremendously broken this process is. They assured me they had never heard about my harassment experiences, and said that executive-level leadership is not involved in discussions of the frequency of this issue within their departments. I was asked to email them my list of proposed solutions.
Ultimately, the stress that had mounted from my years of working at SpaceX broke my health down in ways I had never previously experienced. In November 2021, my psychiatrist wrote to the company to recommend that I take a leave of absence due to panic attacks that gave me heart palpitations. As I took a week’s medical leave to recover, I received a frantic cadence of calls from HR, asking to talk—presumably to have me sign a nondisclosure agreement in exchange for money.
I quit 10 days later and walked away, leaving a final note to my team to continue working toward a sustainable climate solution. The last I heard, new SpaceX interns would receive training on how to better report their harassment. The harassers, on the other hand, have still not been held to account.
SpaceX did not respond to a request for comment.
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