Elon Musk's SpaceX received a $5 million reimbursement from NASA for a comprehensive safety review conducted after the billionaire was seen publicly smoking marijuana on “The Joe Rogan Experience" podcast in 2018.
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While cannabis use has become more widely accepted than ever before, especially within the 11 states where it is legal for recreational use, the video spawned investor concern and was accompanied by headlines such as "Tesla Shaken by a Departure and What Elon Musk Was Smoking" from The New York Times, and “Analysis: Elon Musk is hurting Tesla with his bizarre behavior,” from CNN Money.
The goal of the assessment was to provide a comprehensive safety review through individual employee interviews from a cross-section of personnel from senior managers to engineers and technicians, the space agency told FOX Business. While evaluations were initially requested at SpaceX as well as Boeing, both of which were contracted to take people to the International Space Station, the review at the U.S. planemaker was later halted.
The additional money that NASA paid SpaceX is standard practice when an agency requires work by a contractor not covered under the original agreement. While NASA didn't comment on its reasons for the review, which included compliance with illegal-drug policies, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine made clear he didn't want contractors engaging in behavior like Musk's on-air toking.
“That was not helpful, and that did not inspire confidence, and the leaders of these organizations need to take that as an example of what to do when you lead an organization that’s going to launch American astronauts,” Bridenstine told The Atlantic. Musk "is as committed to safety as anybody, and he understands that that was not appropriate behavior, and you won’t be seeing that again."
Marijuana use is still banned by federal law, despite its legalization by some American states and cities.
"There is nothing more important to SpaceX than this endeavor, and we take seriously the responsibility that NASA has entrusted in us to safely and reliably carry American astronauts to and from the International Space Station," SpaceX said after the review was announced. The company expressed confidence that its "comprehensive drug-free workforce and workplace programs exceed all applicable contractual requirements."
SpaceX and Boeing each received government contracts in 2014 to develop a spacecraft capable of ferrying U.S. astronauts to the space station. While SpaceX initially set a 2017 target date for completion, the firm has yet to deliver a final version of its “Crew Dragon” vessel.
In the interim, NASA monitors compliance by both SpaceX and Boeing with its safety requirements. "As with all we do, the ultimate goal is astronaut and public safety for the important missions the companies are undertaking," the agency said.
Boeing didn't immediately respond to requests for comment from FOX Business.
FOX Business’ Thomas Barrabi contributed to this report.