According to a recent report, Tesla CEO and SpaceX founder Elon Musk who famously smoked marijuana while appearing on the Joe Rogan podcast was paid millions by NASA to prevent his employees from illegally using drugs.
According to a recent report from Politico, following Tesla CEO and SpaceX founder Elon Musk’s appearance on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast where he smoked weed and drank whiskey, NASA ordered a review of SpaceX’s work culture. But Politico alleges that taxpayers, not SpaceX, are bearing the cost of the review.
NASA reportedly agreed to pay SpaceX $5 million in May to cover the cost of the review which included educating employees and ensuring they follow strict guidelines for federal contractors banning drug use. The review was seen by many as a highly unusual expenditure given that it was Musk’s actions which prompted the review in the first place.
The NASA contract to SpaceX to pay for the workplace review, which was a modification of a previous contract to build a space capsule, added to ongoing tensions with Musk’s established rival Boeing. Boeing and SpaceX are competing to build a new space capsule for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program with SpaceX building the Crew Dragon capsule and Boeing manufacturing the Starliner, both of which are behind schedule.
Boeing also performed the same workplace safety and culture review, but unlike SpaceX it didn’t receive any extra funds to do. Pete Garrettson, a recently retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and space strategist commented on the situation stating: “As a taxpayer why would I pay when I don’t have to? If I was Boeing, I also would have said, ‘Why am I being punished without the same compensation?’”
Garrettson added: “If I was at NASA, I’d say, ‘How much was your contract [for the Commercial Crew Program] padded compared to SpaceX?’” SpaceX stated that it is using the money to cover the cost of the review which includes interviewing staff across the country and was not part of the company’s original contract for the Crew Dragon capsule in 2014. Boeing is carrying out the review under its current contract which includes additional costs of conducting interviews with employees.
James Gleeson, a SpaceX spokesman, stated: “SpaceX worked closely with NASA to account for additional work beyond the scope of the contract.” A Boeing spokesperson stated: “NASA is moving forward with fulfilling the objectives of their safety assessment under our current contract, and we are prepared to help our customer meet those goals.”
NASA stated that it is “standard practice” for a company to receive additional funds for work not included in the original contract but did not directly answer why no additional funds were offered to Boeing. A NASA spokesperson told Politico that “after discussions with Boeing…we decided we wouldn’t pursue a contract modification to carry out the assessment that’s underway.”
Greg Autry, an assistant professor at the University of Southern California who served on the Trump administration’s NASA transition team, commented on the situation stating: “The idea of NASA ever giving SpaceX preferential treatment over Boeing is simply giggle-inducing to industry insiders. At every step of the way Boeing got more [money] in the [Commercial Crew development] program. Far, far more than $5 million. Even discussing $5 million in this context is silly.”
Garrettson added: “What we have here is an important cultural divide between what is considered appropriate behavior in the old guard in the space community and what is considered OK among Silicon Valley tech people and a growing sector of Americans.”
Read the full report in Politico here.