NASA’s review of the safety cultures at Elon Musk-owned SpaceX and Boeing are unlikely to find any major delinquencies, according to the agency’s chief, a positive sign for the two companies facing their own respective controversies.
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The episode, however, highlights the potential issues that can arise as the federal government relies on the private market for space travel. Boeing and SpaceX were chosen by NASA in 2014 to manufacture spacecraft to fly astronauts to the International Space Station.
Since then, a recent upgrade to Boeing’s signature jet has been involved in two fatal crashes, while Musk’s personal antics potentially threaten his ability to continue to lead SpaceX. The safety probes are not yet complete, but NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said he anticipates “everybody is going to come through it very well.”
“We’re moving to a new day where we are not the owner and operator of the hardware anymore. We are a purchaser of the service,” he told FOX Business. “We want to make sure when we purchase that service that the safety culture that we have translates to the culture of our crew providers.”
In September, Musk, who also owns electric-car maker Tesla, smoked marijuana during a taping of U.S. comedian Joe Rogan’s podcast. The incident raised concerns among current and former officials given that SpaceX receives millions of dollars in government contracts and the drug is still illegal at the federal level.
Bridenstine said it did “not build confidence,” but noted that the agency’s work is with SpaceX not “with any one individual.”
“SpaceX has their capabilities and they have an entire organizational structure that does amazing work, they’ve already proven themselves over and over again,” he said. “What one person does is just that and we don’t prejudge the entire institution based on that one incident.”
Alongside the NASA review, the Pentagon is also reportedly close to finishing its own investigation that could result in Musk losing his security clearance.
Despite the ongoing scandal, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft on Sunday completed its first test flight to the Space Station, clearing a major hurdle to the company receiving NASA clearance to fly humans to space.
This week, Musk is also slated to file his response to allegations from the Securities and Exchange Commission that the 47-year old entrepreneur violated a settlement with the agency stemming from controversial tweets that he planned to take Tesla private.
On Monday, China and Indonesia ordered Boeing to suspend commercial service of its 737 MAX-8 after the aircraft – the latest version of the Chicago-based manufacturer’s most widely-flown jet – was involved in two fatal crashes.
The news sent the company's shares into decline in premarket trading on Wall Street on Monday. It also led Boeing to delay the ceremonial debut of its 777X widebody aircraft this week.