NASA will launch an extensive “safety review” of operations and workplace culture at SpaceX and Boeing—two companies the space agency has commissioned to fly astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS).
According to The Washington Post, three officials with knowledge of the inquiry revealed that it had been announced due to the recent behavior of SpaceX’s founder Elon Musk, who smoked marijuana and drank whiskey on “The Joe Rogan Experience” podcast. While many might view his actions as relatively harmless, top NASA officials were reportedly unhappy with Musk.
NASA declined to comment on what prompted the review, but a spokesperson said it would ensure the companies are meeting the space agency’s requirements for workplace safety, including adherence to a “drug-free environment.”
The probe—which is set to begin next year—will take months to complete and will involve interviews with hundreds of employees in order to assess the culture in both workplaces, according to NASA.
William Gerstenmaier, the space agency’s associate administrator for human exploration, told The Post that the review would examine “everything and anything that could impact safety” at SpaceX and Boeing.
Meanwhile, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine expressed his confidence in the SpaceX team, but said that workplace culture starts “at the top,” adding that the space agency had to ensure the public had confidence in the safety of its human spaceflight program—which is due to start next year.
“If I see something that’s inappropriate, the key concern to me is what is the culture that led to that inappropriateness and is NASA involved in that,” he told The Post. “As an agency we’re not just leading ourselves, but our contractors, as well. We need to show the American public that when we put an astronaut on a rocket, they’ll be safe.”
In a statement responding to the announcement of the review, SpaceX said: “Human spaceflight is the core mission of our 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 to and from the International Space Station.”
The company added that it actively promotes workplace safety and was confident its drug-free workforce and workplace programs “exceeded all applicable contractual requirements.”
Boeing also stressed that its workplace culture ensured the “integrity, safety and quality” of its products, in a statement provided to AFP.
“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.”
Since the retirement of the space shuttle program in 2011, the U.S. has been left with no means of its own to ferry astronauts to the ISS. Instead it has had to rely on the use of Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft at a cost of $80 million per astronaut.
To address this issue, NASA awarded contracts worth $4.2 billion and $2.6 billion to Boeing and SpaceX respectively in 2014 as part of its Commercial Crew Program—which is designed to fly astronauts to the ISS.
Despite several setbacks and delays for both companies, Boeing and SpaceX hope to carry out manned human spaceflight, using the spacecraft that will launch for the ISS, in mid-2019.
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