Musk’s Behavior Triggers NASA Safety Review of SpaceX & Boeing

Elon Musk (Credit: SpaceX)

The Washington Post reports NASA safety reviews of its two commercial crew providers was triggered by SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s use of drugs and alcohol.

The review, to begin next year, would look at both Boeing and SpaceX, the companies under contract to fly NASA’s astronauts, and examine “everything and anything that could impact safety” as the companies prepare to fly humans for the first time, William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for human exploration, said in an interview with The Washington Post.

The review was prompted by the recent behavior of SpaceX’s founder, Elon Musk, according to three officials with knowledge of the probe, after he took a hit of marijuana and sipped whiskey on a podcast streamed on the Internet. That rankled some at NASA’s highest levels and prompted the agency to take a close look at the culture of the companies, the people said.

NASA spokesman Bob Jacobs declined to comment on what prompted the review. But in a statement, he said it would “ensure the companies are meeting NASA’s requirements for workplace safety, including the adherence to a drug-free environment.”

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in an interview that the agency wants to make sure the public has confidence in its human-spaceflight program, especially as the companies are getting closer to their first flights, scheduled for next year.

There has been a lot of gnashing of teeth among Musk supporters since the reviews were revealed yesterday. A few things to keep in mind:

  • Federal contracts have anti-drug workplace provisions in them. While it is legal to use marijuana in California, where Musk smoked it, the drug is still illegal under federal law.
  • There have been public allegations that Musk’s drug use goes far beyond pot to include LSD, cocaine and ecstasy. (For the Azealia Banks/Grimes lost weekend saga, see this story.) Musk, in fact, joked about using crack cocaine in order to work long hours without sleeping. He has also admitted to using Ambien, a legal prescription drug, in order to sleep.
  • Claims of him using LSD, cocaine and ecstasy are unverified. But, it’s a good bet that NASA is aware of the claims and that it has concerns about them, even if the space agency doesn’t say so publicly.
  • Musk’s behavior this year has been erratic. He has gotten into Twitter fights with journalists and others, accused a diver involved in the Thai cave rescue of being a pedophile, and claimed he had funding to take Tesla Motors private when he had, at best, a verbal commitment but nothing in writing. The latter claim earned him a three-year ban in serving as Tesla chairman and $40 million in fins for him and the company.

Oh, and one more thing: yes, Russian quality control has been lacking recently, what with the Soyuz abort and the hole drilled in the side of the orbital module. NASA has (a) no choice but to keep using the Soyuz right now, and (b) limited influence over another nation’s space program.

NASA does have control over commercial crew, for which it is paying the vast majority of the cost. So, it is moving to try to improve quality control where it can do so.

My guess is that although federal contracts have anti-drug provisions, the government probably overlooks a lot of things as long as it doesn’t become a public or obvious problem. Musk’s behavior seems to have crossed a line.

NASA’s safety reviews seem like yet another self inflicted wound for Musk and SpaceX. He hasn’t done Boeing any favors, either Both companies have to deal with reviews while trying to launch two flight tests each of their commercial crew spacecraft to the International Space Station.

Perhaps these reviews will be a waste of time. Maybe they will find problems that when corrected will lead to improvements in both programs. Time will tell.

  • duheagle

    No, the Saudis own the Bushes. Russia is supposed to own Trump – though what the heck they’re supposed to have used to buy him is something of a mystery as the whole place is poor as a churchmouse. Keep your proggy stories straight.

  • duheagle

    As previously noted, no lies. The “caravan” is mostly military-age males. Mr. Trump’s statements that many are criminals is strongly backed – now – by Mexican authorities. The Mexicans should know. As the caravan has been unable to invade the U.S. it has settled for preying on the local Mexicans in places along its route of march.

    The Mexican government was initially supportive of the caravan as it saw allowing it free passage as a way to mess with the Trump administration – of which, let us once again recall, the Mexican government is no fan. But it turns out the caravan consists of quite a sizable number of rapists, thieves and miscellaneous dacoits.

    As Trump’s resolute border defense now makes it seem the U.S. is never to receive any of these caravan-related “blessings,” the Mexican government is now doing an about face. Given the attitude of the Mexican government toward illegal immigrants into Mexico, I suspect things are about to get ugly. Given all the cartel-led violence in Mexico in recent years, the Mexican standard of “ugly” is strictly NC-17.

    Of course Trump knows the Saudis did it. That’s not in serious dispute by anyone. But Trump isn’t going to come down on the Saudis with hob-nailed boots as the progs all want. That isn’t a lie, it’s just failure to comply with proggy demands. The Iranians killed hundreds of American troops during Obama’s administration and it didn’t prevent him from keeping his nose firmly pushed up the mullahs’ backsides. Both are instances of realpolitik, though I would argue that the Obama variant was never based very much in reality.

    As for Daniels, why did Clinton lie about Lewinsky, et al? There ya go.

  • duheagle

    Acting Attorneys General are hardly unprecedented. There is such a person every time there is a change of party in the White House as the incumbent resigns effective at noon on inauguration day. The acting AG is usually also someone of the defeated party who caretakes until formally replaced by the nominee of the new President. In Trump’s case, that person was Sally Yates who distinguished herself by continuing to behave as though Obama was still President, thereby getting herself canned early and replaced by a Republican seat-filler until Jeff Sessions was confirmed. So now we have another Acting AG. Ho hum. Some constitutional crisis.

    As for “decrees that keep failing judicial review,” Trump pretty routinely loses lawsuits about his executive orders in lower courts still packed with leftover progs – especially when the litigants are able to jurisdiction-shop. These initial setbacks are invariably defeated at either the appellate or Supreme Court level. In no case I can recall has Trump actually moved to override, in any way, any of these nuisance lower-court verdicts, though, in view of the eventual reversals of such heel-dragging litigation, he’d probably be justified in doing so by now given how many supporting data points have accumulated.

    And can you cite me any instances in which the Trump administration has asserted the right not to enforce a federal law simply because it doesn’t like said law? Obama did this dozens of times, especially anent DACA. DACA pretty much takes pinking shears to U.S. immigration law. Funny how quiet all you currently outraged progs were when actual usurpations of the rule of law were going on. But then that was your guy wasn’t it, so that’s very different.

  • duheagle

    Yes, Trump is a raving narcissist. So far, though, he doesn’t seem to imagine himself the reincarnation of the Sun King no matter how loudly the Liars Chorus of prog squealers proclaim it so. So he’s not a malignant narcissist as both Clintons and both Obamas are.

    And, unlike Obama, who was notably stiff and standoffish anytime he got into a crowd of ordinary people who weren’t all pre-cleared butt-kissers, Trump seems to like ordinary people.

  • duheagle

    It would be nice were this so, but I doubt it. I think Sen. Shelby has passed the word that there will be something found to hang up SpaceX and he won’t be at all fussy about whatever it is his numerous inside men at NASA decide it should be. Boeing will be put through a Potemkin Village “investigation” and nothing will come of it. The object of this witch hunt is obviously to jam up Musk and SpaceX. One hopes the Demo 1 date having been set, there will be no screwing about with that, but until Demo 1 actually flies, we won’t know. The Demo 2 flight with crew is notionally set for June. Lots of time between now and then to “find” some more “votes” as it were.

  • duheagle

    Heh.

  • duheagle

    And it will stay that way for maybe another couple years until SH-Starship continues the FH tradition anent your point 1 and surpasses its older stablemate anent your point 2. It’s not a fluke if you can do it twice in a row.

  • duheagle

    No.

  • duheagle

    That comment was made anent himself and the MSM. In that context, it is quite true.

  • duheagle

    You remind me of that scene from Jumbo where Jimmy Durante says, “What elephant?”

  • Emmet Ford

    Pulling together the money for the rocket-that cannot-be-named-well will be more of a challenge. This latest funding round seems to have underperformed, if passing references in the media are to be believed. Fingers crossed.

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    Funny thing about the Musk critics, they often claim Musk being away to let Shotwell run the show HELPS SpaceX stay on track. Conversely the claim here is that if Musk is unavailable at all, the entire CC program falls apart. Here is another one: “Musk is pushing too hard asking too much too quickly”. This is not the behavior of pot heads, drinks or people tripping on LSD all the timeframe . This leaves sleeping pills prescribed to countless millions of Americans and the rantings of Banks who is bat-$h!t crazy.

    Pick one, but arguing both simultaneously is disingenuous, as is bringing dr prescribed sleeping medication used my millions and probably many execs with crazy schedules.

  • duheagle

    I have been unable to find any evidence to support your claim. Do you have a link? The alleged timing of this alleged mission would be of particular interest as Grant’s Civil War career was fairly meteoric, rising from an obscure Capt. to a famous and celebrated Maj. Gen. in less than ten months.

    That Grant was a drinker is hardly controversial. He had to resign his original commission while still a captain over public drunkenness. He indulged in occasional bouts of binge drinking for the rest of his life. These occurred during periods of inactivity when he was away from his family and/or had no close associate present who would check his drinking. When either was present, Grant didn’t drink to excess.

    Rejoining the Army after the outbreak of the Civil War, Grant did well training recruits and was quickly promoted two ranks past his rank at the time of his resignation. Lincoln promoted Grant to Brigadier General not long after Grant had been given his first field command in July 1861. Gen. Fremont was also a supporter and made Grant one of his key subordinates. Grant next came to Lincoln’s attention based on an aggressive assault he made on a Confederate post in Missouri in Nov. 1861. Grant was next responsible for two of the rare Union victories in the first year of the war, taking Forts Henry and Donelson in Feb. 1862. Lincoln promoted Grant to Major General at this point.

    Having gotten onto the DC “radar,” at some point between mid-1861 and early 1862, Grant would have quickly become the target of less militarily successful peers and other would-be “courtiers.” If there was actually anyone sent west to check on Grant, it would, one presumes, almost certainly have been somewhere during this interval. After the victories at Henry and Donelson it seems quite unlikely that Lincoln would have endorsed any expedition based solely on Grant’s alleged drinking.

    Grant was quite busy and in active command right through most of the Civil War. Grant was engaged and sober when in active combat command. The drinking had mainly been associated with his periods of garrison duty before the Civil War. I don’t find it very credible that Lincoln, or even a Lincoln subordinate, would have sent anyone to check on Grant’s drinking after Feb. 1862.

  • duheagle

    There are plenty of media types very willing to spin anything to Musk’s disadvantage. That’s why it’s important to know what a given scribbler’s agenda is – and they all have agendas.

  • ReSpaceAge
  • ReSpaceAge
  • Mr Snarky Answer

    Define fly? These parts could certainly fly in sub-orbital hops of the spaceship to get a feel for the GNC/Pressurization System/Raptor Clustering….

  • envy

    “nothing unique about FalconH[eavy}”
    Name another rocket that can lift 30 t to LEO and land any stage(s) for reuse.

  • Steve

    This is not a new feature, and is definitely not something unique to Tesla. GM OnStar has been available what seems like forever, and even before that I remember working on a system for Diamler to tie the car’s emergency sensors to the cell phone in order to call for help. This was when bag phones were state of the art.

  • Steve

    If you think it is unfair to SpaceX employees, then the CEO needs to set a better example, and stop acting like a child. There is a reason he is not allowed to be CEO of Tesla. Perhaps the same thing should happen at SpaceX. Promote Shotwell to CEO / President, and make them hire a full time babysitter for the petulant CTO.

  • publiusr

    I saw the 60 Minutes special last night. Musk looks a bit addled.

    But BFR will have more Metal in it–so that’s good.

    He isn’t going to die on Mars though. That Tesla plant is what is going to kill him.

    He did acknowledge that it was his mistake to rely too much on automation.

    A lot of libertarians talk about how greens are Malthusian Miserablists, how some look at humans as a virus on the body of the planet in the same way others looked at certain groups as a virus on the Volk.

    Yet businessmen and libertarian conservatives make the same mistake that Simon accused Ehrlich of doing–of treating the masses-specifically labor–as a problem.

    Labor is a resource. Keep them happy–pay a living wage–and folks will take pride in what they do.