An executive for the United Launch Alliance compared two of the company's business partners to "two fiancées" that ULA has to plan on marrying, Space News reported. Brett Tobey, ULA's vice president for engineering, was discussing how ULA has commissioned new rocket engines from two private companies — Blue Origin and Aerojet Rocketdyne.
Both companies are competing to make engines that can replace the ones in ULA’s Atlas V rocket, but ULA hasn’t decided which engine will win. "Compare it to having two fiancées, two possible brides," Tobey said of ULA's relationship with the two companies during a talk at the University of Colorado-Boulder. "Blue Origin is a super-rich girl, and then there is this poor girl over here, Aerojet Rocketdyne. But we have to continue to go to planned rehearsal dinners, buy cakes, and all the rest with both."
"We have to continue to go to planned rehearsal dinners, buy cakes, and all the rest with both."
The space industry is already male-dominated: only 11.3 percent of aerospace engineers employed in 2015 were women, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. More women have gained power within aerospace, but comments like these are a reminder that the industry still isn’t very friendly to women. The analogy makes it seem that women are valued by how much money they have, and that brides must be appeased with presents in order to be content.
"We are committed to an inclusive culture where all employees are valued, respected and engaged to bring those ideas and perspectives to the team and our business," the company states on its website. "At ULA we have a comprehensive strategy to ensure our commitment to diversity and inclusion is part of our normal way of doing things."
ULA's CEO Tory Bruno condemned Tobey's comments on Twitter
ULA's CEO Tory Bruno condemned Tobey's comments on Twitter today. "These ill-advised statements do not reflect ULA’s views or our relationship with our valuable suppliers," said Bruno. "We welcome competition." Bruno didn’t address the overt sexism in the statement. I emailed ULA to ask if Tobey's comments reflected ULA's views on women. "These comments don't reflect ULA's views," replied spokeswoman Jessica Rye.
ULA is eager to replace the rocket engines in its Atlas V, since the engines are made by a Russian company called NPO Energomash. Up until the end of last year, Congress had banned the company from buying any more Russian engines, since relations have soured between the US and Russia since the Ukraine crisis. That ban was recently lifted in the December Omnibus Bill, but ULA is still working to get rid of the Russian engines, since using them is "not appropriate now," Bruno told The Verge in a previous interview.
Both Aerojet Rocketdyne and Blue Origin are making engine replacements for the Atlas V, but ULA hasn't decided on which engine will be used. The company wants options to choose from, and will pick the one that works the best and is finished first, according to Bruno. It’s a good strategy for getting the best engine possible on a faster timeline. But comparing the two companies to brides that both need placating is a sexist way of describing those relationships.