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Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

SpaceX Technician Says Concerns About Test Results Got Him Fired

Edvard Pettersson
  • Ex-employee says management told workers to ignore protocols

  • Company tells jury he was terminated for poor job performance

A former Space Exploration Technologies Corp. technician told a jury he was fired for complaining to management that rocket-building test protocols weren’t followed and results were falsified, jeopardizing the safety of eventual manned trips into orbit.

Jason Blasdell claims he took his concerns as high as SpaceX founder and Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk in the months before he was terminated in 2014, purportedly for being “disruptive."

A Los Angeles state court jury will be asked to decide whether Blasdell had good reason to believe testing documents were falsified and whether his firing was unjustified.

“He went up the chain of command as he had learned in the Marines was the proper procedure," Blasdell’s lawyer, Carney Shegerian, told jurors in his opening statement Tuesday. “He had nothing personal to benefit from this other than to do the right thing."

SpaceX made misrepresentations to the federal government, cut corners in areas where safety was concerned and labeled Blasdell “insubordinate" for pressing his concerns, Shegerian said.

Scientific Decisions

California Superior Court Judge William Fahey has ruled that the jury won’t be second-guessing the scientific decisions of SpaceX’s engineers or the business judgment of its managers. The trial is expected to take two weeks.

“Jason Blasdell is not a whistle-blower and this is not a whistle-blower case," SpaceX’s lawyer, Lynne Hermle, said in her opening statement.

He never observed or conducted any unlawful testing of rocket parts, never complained about unlawful testing, and never brought any concerns about unlawful testing to federal authorities, Hermle told jurors.

Blasdell was fired because his job performance had become unacceptable and his fellow employees had become worried about their safety because of him, according to the lawyer.

NASA Missions

SpaceX plans to fly 20 to 24 missions in 2017 for customers that include the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and commercial satellite operators. The company has contracts with NASA valued at $4.2 billion to resupply the International Space Station using an unmanned Dragon spacecraft and to ferry astronauts there with a version of Dragon that is capable of carrying crews.

Blasdell sued Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX two years after he was fired on April 1, 2014. He had worked at the private company for more than three years, testing avionic components of Falcon 9 launch vehicles and the Dragon spacecraft, according to his complaint.

He alleges that his managers pressured technicians to deviate from written test procedures and to sign off on tests of rocket parts that hadn’t been conducted according to protocols.

These practices “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," according to Blasdell’s complaint.

Blasdell said his managers minimized his concerns in part because they didn’t want to slow down production. He eventually met with Musk in early 2014 to complain that employees were signing off on procedures they didn’t follow and that he didn’t want to follow along. Musk said he would look into it and never followed up with Blasdell, according to the complaint.

The judge in May granted the company’s request to throw out Blasdell’s claim that the company defamed him by calling him disruptive.

The case is Blasdell v. Space Exploration Technologies Corp., BC615112, California Superior Court, Los Angeles County (Los Angeles).



Serious injuries at Tesla plant double industry average: report


Joseph Szczesny








Tesla CEO Elon Musk acknowledged that employees at his company have been 'having a hard time'



Detroit (AFP) - The rate of serious injuries at a Tesla factory in California is double the industry average, a worker advocacy group said Wednesday in a report calling for better workplace protections.

The study by Worksafe, a California nonprofit group, used Tesla's own internal data to show injury rates at the company's plant in Fremont, California.

Total injuries at the plant are a third higher than the industry average, the report said.

The United Auto Workers (UAW), the industry's largest union in the United States, commissioned the report.

It uses data from 2015, the last year for which industry-wide comparative figures are available.

The rate of serious injuries -- those involving job transfers or missed days -- was 7.9 per 100 workers, compared to the industry average of 3.9, Worksafe wrote.

The data -- which compared injury rates among auto assembly workers, not suppliers -- also found a recordable total incidence rate of 8.8 injuries per 100 workers, compared to 6.7 for the industry as a whole.

The UAW has an intense effort underway to organize workers at the Tesla plant in Fremont, where employees backing the union have filed numerous charges with the National Labor Relations Board in Oakland, claiming harassment for pro-union activities. Tesla has denied those allegations.

In a recent interview with The Guardian newspaper, Tesla CEO Elon Musk acknowledged that employees at his company have been "having a hard time, working long hours, and on hard jobs."

But he also insisted he "cared deeply" about their health and well-being and said the safety record was improving.

"We're a money-losing company," Musk told the British daily.

"This is not some situation where, for example, we are just greedy capitalists who decided to skimp on safety in order to have more profits and dividends and that kind of thing."

Frank Hammer, a former UAW staff member and veteran auto plant organizer, said Tesla is in the midst of steadily rising production as it builds more vehicles and prepares for the production of its $35,000 Model 3.

"I'm sure everyone in California wants to see Tesla succeed," he said. "But when you raise production, that translates into more pressure for workers on the shop floor."

Tesla recently announced it would begin recruiting engineers in Mexico because it couldn't find enough qualified applicants to staff the Fremont plant.

Meanwhile, the company is under significant financial duress, as losses rose by 40 percent during the first quarter.