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SpaceX owner and CEO Elon Musk celebrates after the launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft on Nasa's SpaceX Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida on May 30 2020. Picture: REUTERS/Steve Nesius
SpaceX owner and CEO Elon Musk celebrates after the launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft on Nasa's SpaceX Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida on May 30 2020. Picture: REUTERS/Steve Nesius

Private rocket company SpaceX fired at least five workers after it found they had drafted and circulated a letter criticising founder Elon Musk and urging executives to make the firm’s culture more inclusive, two people familiar with the matter said.

SpaceX didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The New York Times reported on Thursday that SpaceX had fired workers associated with the letter, citing three members with knowledge of the situation.

SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell sent an email saying the company had investigated and “terminated a number of employees involved” with the letter, the New York Times said.

The newspaper said Shotwell’s email said employees involved with circulating the letter had been fired for making other staff feel “uncomfortable, intimidated and bullied, and/or angry because the letter pressured them to sign on to something that did not reflect their views”.

Billionaire Musk is pursuing a $44bn bid for Twitter and supports greater freedom of speech n the site. On Thursday he told Twitter staff the platform should allow “pretty outrageous things” as long as the content is not illegal.

The SpaceX letter, headed “an open letter to the Executives of SpaceX”, seen by Reuters, called Musk a “distraction and embarrassment”.

In a list of three demands it said, “SpaceX must swiftly and explicitly separate itself from Elon’s personal brand”, “hold all leadership equally accountable to making SpaceX a great place to work for everyone” and “define and uniformly respond to all forms of unacceptable behaviour”.

Musk,who is also the head of electric automaker Tesla, has been in the headlines and featured in late-night comedy monologues in recent months, including over his quest to take over Twitter, his criticism of Democrats, and a reported allegation of sexual harassment, which he has denied in a Twitter post.

The open letter at SpaceX, first reported by The Verge, was drafted by SpaceX workers and shared in an internal “Morale Boosters” group chat that brings together thousands of staff, a person familiar with the matter said, asking not to be identified.

Musk, also the company’s chief engineer, has been viewed as pivotal in many of SpaceX’s successes, such as pioneering the reuse of orbital rocket boosters and bringing back routine human space flight from the US after a nine-year hiatus.

Shotwell, who leads the company’s day-to-day business, said she will enforce SpaceX’s “zero tolerance” standards against employee harassment.

Founded by Musk in 2002, SpaceX has been central to the US space programme as the only company capable of launching Nasa astronauts into space and planning to send humans to the moon for the space agency within the next decade.

SpaceX is also one of two companies on which the Pentagon depends to launch the bulk of US military and spy satellites into space.

Reuters

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