Elon Musk, SpaceX face increasing tension over 'Crew Dragon' project

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine will visit SpaceX headquarters on Thursday amid signs of mounting tension between government officials and Elon Musk’s firm over its progress on a project that is crucial for the agency’s plans to return U.S. astronauts to the moon by 2024.

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“NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine will tour SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California, on Thursday, Oct. 10, to see the progress the company is making to fly astronauts to and from the International Space Station from American soil as part of the agency's Commercial Crew Program,” NASA said in a press release.

SpaceX and Boeing each received government contracts in 2014 to develop spacecraft capable of ferrying U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station as part of the “Commercial Crew Program.” While SpaceX initially set a 2017 target date for completion, the firm has yet to deliver a final version of its “Crew Dragon” vessel for active use.

Bridenstine’s visit will occur just days after he appeared to express frustration regarding SpaceX’s contributions to the Commercial Crew program shortly before Musk was set to unveil the “Starship” project, a separate craft designed to reach Mars.

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“I am looking forward to the SpaceX announcement tomorrow [on Starship],” Bridenstine said on Sept. 27. “In the meantime, Commercial Crew is years behind schedule. NASA expects to see the same level of enthusiasm focused on the investments of the American taxpayer. It’s time to deliver.”

NASA is working toward a Trump administration directive to return U.S. astronauts to the moon by the year 2024. The agency recently awarded a $4.6 billion contract to Lockheed Martin to build at least six Orion space shuttles for future missions.

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This story has been updated.