Jeff Bezos’ rocket company is reportedly pushing employees to travel from Washington to Texas to help launch a space tourism rocket despite the coronavirus outbreak

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  • Blue Origin, the rocket company owned by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, is putting pressure on employees to conduct a test launch of the company’s space tourism rocket, according to The Verge.
  • The company is currently considering whether it can transport employees from Washington to Texas in order to conduct the launch, The Verge reports.
  • Blue Origin has been deemed an “essential” business by the US government, allowing it to operate regardless of lockdowns.
  • But employees are concerned that traveling could expose them and others to the coronavirus.
  • “We hold safety as our highest value. Period. For our employees, for our communities, for our customers, and for our systems,” a Blue Origin spokesperson tells Business Insider, in part.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Jeff Bezos’ rocket company, Blue Origin, is pressuring employees to travel across the country to help launch a space tourism rocket, despite the coronavirus pandemic.

That’s according to a new report from The Verge’s Loren Grush, who spoke to four Blue Origin employees who say the company is mulling whether to transport employees from its Washington headquarters to Van Horn, Texas, where the company’s test launch facility is based, despite employee concerns about spreading the virus or becoming exposed themselves.

One manager reportedly said at a recent team meeting that employees who didn’t comply could face “employment repercussions.”

“I would say that you should ask yourself, as an individual, are you acting as a toxin in the organization, fanning discontent, or are you really trying to help our senior leaders make better decisions?” one member of senior leadership, Jeff Ashby, reportedly said during the meeting.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urges avoiding travel and staying at least six feet away from other people to slow the spread of the virus. But Blue Origin employees told The Verge that they’re often crowded into one room when conducting test launches.

Blue Origin has been deemed an essential business by the US government, allowing it to continue operating amid the coronavirus outbreak. A company spokesperson told Business Insider earlier this week that the company’s work is considered essential because it resides within the aerospace and defense sectors, which have been deemed “mission essential” by the Departments of Homeland Security and of Defense.

Blue Origin, along with two other companies, won a $2.3 billion Air Force contract in 2018. Blue Origin was awarded $500 million to help prepare its New Glenn rocket system, a fully reusable rocket intended to carry both passengers and cargo to Earth’s orbit, for national security missions.

But employees told The Verge that the rocket they may be expected to test is not “essential” to the US government – it’s the company’s space tourism rocket, New Shepard, which is designed to take the ultra-wealthy into space.

“We don’t comment on internal meetings, but we do have an open and constructive culture where we solicit inputs from every member on the team,” a Blue Origin spokesperson told Business Insider in a statement. “To be clear, we are continuing to monitor this rapidly evolving situation and we don’t have a specific date set for the New Shepard launch as we are still working through testing and technical requirements.”

The spokesperson said the company will continue operating at its West Texas site, but that many employees have been working remotely for several weeks. Blue Origin has also been putting other measures in place to protect employees, like deep cleaning, stopping non-essential visits, cutting back on travel, and practicing social distancing, the spokesperson said.

“We hold safety as our highest value. Period. For our employees, for our communities, for our customers, and for our systems,” the spokesperson said.

Blue Origin was founded by Bezos in 2000 and is based in Kent, Washington, not far from Amazon’s headquarters. Washington has issued statewide stay-at-home orders, while measures to stay at home have been issued in some parts of Texas. Texas’ governor has issued a mandated two-week self-quarantine for anyone coming into the state, but Blue Origin employees would be exempt from that order, according to The Verge.

More than 1 million people have been infected by the coronavirus worldwide, and the global death toll has passed 52,000. In the US, more than 243,000 people have tested positive for the virus, and the current death toll in the country is nearly 6,000.