NASA will conduct a safety review of Boeing and SpaceX, months after the latter company’s founder and CEO Elon Musk smoked marijuana during a videotaped podcast, according to the Washington Post on Tuesday.
The agency’s review of the companies will begin next year, the report says. Musk’s pot-smoking upset high level NASA officials, the Post reported, causing the agency to take a look at SpaceX. The U.S. Air Force also began looking into Musk’s marijuana smoking shortly after the incident.
While NASA officials reportedly focused on Musk’s behavior, Boeing – SpaceX’s competitor under NASA’s Commercial Crew program – is also under review.
“We are focused on safe and successful commercial crew missions to the International Space Station. In the coming months, prior to the crew test flights of Crew Dragon and Starliner, NASA will be conducting a cultural assessment study in coordination with our commercial partners to ensure the companies are meeting NASA’s requirements for workplace safety, including the adherence to a drug-free environment,” NASA said in a statement to CNBC.
NASA’s Commercial Crew program is part of the agency’s plan to once again launch U.S. astronauts from U.S. soil. Since the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011, astronauts have flown aboard Russian Soyuz — at a cost to NASA of more than $70 million per seat. The Commercial Crew program is competitive, with contracts up for grabs for SpaceX to win with its Dragon capsules and Boeing with its Starliner capsules.
NASA associate administrator William Gerstenmaier told the Post that the review process will be “pretty invasive.” The agency will take a look at “everything and anything that could impact safety,” Gerstenmaier said. NASA plans to interview hundreds of Boeing and SpaceX employees, according to Gerstenmaier, at all levels of authority.
Top NASA official Jim Bridenstine said in the report that he has “a lot of confidence in the SpaceX team.”
“Culture and leadership start at the top,” Bridenstine told the Post. “Anything that would result in some questioning the culture of safety, we need to fix immediately.”
SpaceX said in a statement to CNBC that flying humans in space “is the core mission” of Musk’s company.
“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,” SpaceX said. “In addition, SpaceX actively promotes workplace safety and we are confident that our comprehensive drug-free workforce and workplace programs exceed all applicable contractual requirements.”
Boeing similarly emphasized its workplace culture, telling CNBC in a statement that the company ensures “the integrity, safety, and quality” of its workplace and production.
“As NASA’s trusted partner since the beginning of human spaceflight, we share the same values and are committed to continuing our legacy of trust, openness and mission success,” Boeing said.
SpaceX is set to launch its first Crew Dragon demonstration flight without astronauts in January, months ahead of Boeing, which suffered a testing setback to its capsule in June. The earliest Boeing’s Starliner capsule will fly is March, although a government watchdog report earlier this year cast doubt over the aerospace giant’s schedule.
Overall, delays have plagued the Commercial Crew program since 2014, when NASA first handed out multi-billion dollar contracts to SpaceX and Boeing.
Musk’s company is nearing the end of a milestone year. SpaceX had its record-tying 18th launch of the year on Thursday. The company also launched Falcon Heavy for the first time, the most powerful rocket since the Atlas V, as well as the final version of its Falcon 9 rocket called Block 5.
SpaceX also put two test satellites for its “Starlink” network into orbit, with the FCC approving SpaceX to launch thousands more of the satellites to create a broadband communications network comparable to fiber optic networks. Additionally, NASA recently gave SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket a vote of confidence, certifying the rocket on Nov. 8 as a “Category 3 launch vehicle.”
“LSP Category 3 certification is a major achievement for the Falcon 9 team and represents another key milestone in our close partnership with NASA,” SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell said in a statement.