Elon Musk still can’t catch a break. After several highly publicized weed smoking and weed-related incidents over the summer, the world-famous entrepreneur and founder of SpaceX, Tesla, and other massive companies has faced troubles left and right. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission sanctioned him. Twitter no-platformed him, pop stars even dragged him on Instagram. At least Musk could say that SpaceX was doing well. The company launched its Falcon Heavy for the first time, during a record-setting year for launches. NASA approved another space-worthy SpaceX rocket while the FCC approved the launch of thousands more of SpaceX’s communications satellites. But after seeing a video of Musk smoking weed, NASA brass say they’ll take their turn making Musk pay for his pot proclivities.
NASA routinely schedules safety reviews of the companies it contracts to build the vessels that carry U.S. astronauts into space. The assessments are very rigorous, taking months to complete. And beginning next year, SpaceX and Boeing will undergo the government’s careful scrutiny of anything and everything that could impact crew safety.
But the reason SpaceX is in the hot seat after such a strong year with NASA is simple: Elon Musk smoking weed on a podcast. At least that’s according to three unnamed officials who spoke with the Washington Post. NASA spokesman Bob Jacobs did not comment on whether Musk smoking a blunt was what triggered the review. But he did mention the importance of SpaceX adhering the rules of a drug-free workplace.
NASA has made a serious investment in SpaceX. In 2014, it awarded Musk’s company $2.6 billion to work on its Commercial Crew Program. The program aims to bring human space flight capabilities back to the United States, something that ended with the shuttering of the Space Shuttle program in 2011. And apparently, Musk’s cannabis habits have caused NASA officials to lose some confidence in the company’s safety protocols. But this view relies on stereotypical assumptions that personal cannabis use off-the-clock is a threat to workplace safety. Still, NASA says it will conduct hundreds of interviews with employees at every level of SpaceX (and Boeing). They’ll ask questions about work hours, drug policies, management styles, how seriously SpaceX responds to concerns and more.
Elon Musk’s public image has taken a number of hits this year. So has his professional status and credibility with the levers of power. The now-infamous 420 “funding secured” tweet led to Musk’s stepping down as Tesla chairman and paying a $20 million fraud settlement to the SEC. Bizarre details of his personal and romantic life surfaced when Azealia Banks said Musk and Canadian pop star Grimes basically kidnapped her one weekend in Los Angeles. And Musk’s itchy Twitter finger got him in hot water yet again when he defamed a Thai rescue volunteer trapped in a cave with that youth soccer team.
In fairness, if SpaceX’s workplace culture did reflect Musk’s personal life, NASA would have just cause for concern. No doubt, the safety assessment will find out. But Elon isn’t building the rockets himself, and whatever’s up with him, weed isn’t to blame.
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