- SpaceX launched NASA astronauts to the International Space Station from the US on May 30.
- The SpaceX milestone coincided with nationwide protests against police brutality, sparked by the homicide of George Floyd while in police custody.
- CNBC obtained emails from CEO Elon Musk and COO Gwynne Shotwell to SpaceX employees after the Demo-2 launch and amid the protests.
SpaceX launched humans into orbit on May 30 for the first time, sending NASA astronauts to the International Space Station.
The company’s milestone coincided with nationwide protests against racism and police brutality that erupted after video circulated showing white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin placing his knee on the neck of George Floyd, a black man, for nearly nine minutes. Floyd died and Chauvin has been charged with murder.
On Wednesday, SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell congratulated employees on the launch in an internal email, while also acknowledging the tragedy of racism and police brutality.
“In speaking of trying to attain a better future, we must acknowledge the current reality. The death of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and so many more highlight the difficulties that communities of color face,” she wrote.
“I want to ensure that SpaceX is a place where these difficulties are recognized and certainly a place where bias and discrimination are not tolerated. I will be meeting with our African American employees this week so that we can have more in-depth conversations about their experiences at work and discuss what we can do to improve.”
Her internal memo follows a brief Monday note from SpaceX CEO and founder Elon Musk, which stated: “Your incredible work is now literally part of history! Words cannot express how proud I am of what you have achieved.”
On Twitter, where the SpaceX and Tesla CEO has around 35 million followers, Musk also briefly commented on the Floyd killing, calling for the police officers who stood by and watched to be arrested.
“Definitely not right that the other officers were charged with nothing. What message does this send in general to officers who stand by while another does wrong? #JusticeForGeorge.” (Those officers, Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane, were charged with aiding and abetting murder late on Wednesday.)
But by the end of June 1, Musk announced he was taking a break from Twitter.
By contrast, SpaceX COO and President Gwynne Shotwell said nothing on Twitter, since she has no account there, according to a SpaceX spokesperson. She reserved her thoughts about police brutality and racism in the US for the internal note.
Here’s the entire e-mail, obtained and transcribed by CNBC:
From: Gwynne Shotwell
Date: Jun. 3, 2020 [Ed: time stamp redacted]
Subj. Demo 2 and Changing the World
On Sunday, SpaceX successfully delivered its first humans, NASA Astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the international Space Station. I hope each of you takes great pride in this extraordinary accomplishment. Until now, only three countries – Russia, the United States and China – have achieved the feat. Your commitment to the safe passage of ‘The Dads’ has required perseverance, sacrifice and a pursuit of a better, more exciting future. I truly believe there is no other group of people that could have made this happen – thank you and congratulations on the mission success thus far.
In speaking of trying to attain a better future, we must acknowledge the current reality. The death of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and so many more highlight the difficulties that communities of color face. These events are troubling. If you are struggling personally or would like to talk to someone, please reach out to your HR Rep, or visit our benefits page to learn about resources provided by Lyra Health and other services. It is ok (and encouraged) to take a moment, or the time you need, to deal with this.
I want to ensure that SpaceX is a place where these difficulties are recognized and certainly a place where bias and discrimination are not tolerated. I will be meeting with our African American employees this week so that we can have more in-depth conversations about their experiences at work and discuss what we can do to improve. I want to meet with others that want to help in this regard. Please send requests to Brian Weir [Ed: Executive Assistant to the COO], Brian Bjelde [Ed: VP of Human Resources], or our Manager of Diversity and Inclusion Jamin Gallman. We will collect good ideas, achievements and misses on this page. [Ed: Link redacted] It will also highlight organizations and opportunities to support this broader community.
Thank you for all your contributions and personal sacrifices that make SpaceX a tremendous success. Congrats on the historic launch and docking of the still ongoing DM-2 mission. And thank you in advance for your continued support in making SpaceX a place where all people can do excellent work, buoyed by the support and teamwork of their fellow employees.
Let’s keep doing our best work and accelerate our goal of making humanity multi-planetary.
p.s. A few of you have asked about the button I was wearing during launch. It’s based on a quote by Harriet Tubman that says “Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that Gwynne Shotwell does not have a Twitter account.