The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has launched an investigation into the culture at SpaceX over concerns about the safety of the agency’s astronauts. The review is going to be led by the Office of Safety and Mission Assurance within NASA and will begin next year. According to a statement from the agency, the assessment will focus on drug policies, leadership and management style, and employees’ hours. The review is expected to take months to complete.
NASA spokesperson Allard Beutel said in a statement, “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. We fully expect our commercial partners to meet all workplace safety requirements in the execution of our missions and the services they provide the American people.”
The concerns were sparked by SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s very public use of marijuana earlier this year. During an interview on “The Joe Rogan Podcast,” he openly smoked a joint and drank whiskey. The video was shared widely on social media, sparking comments both supporting and criticizing his actions.
What Musk did is in a legal gray area. The podcast was taking place in California, which has legalized the use of marijuana for recreational purposes. Nine other states, Washington D.C., and the Northern Mariana Islands have followed suit. However, marijuana consumption still remains illegal at the federal level.
Jim Bridenstine, NASA’s Administrator, said in an interview, “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. 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.” Bridenstine added, “Anything that would result in some questioning the culture of safety, we need to fix immediately.”
The culture at SpaceX is a concern for NASA because the agency is planning to use SpaceX rockets in its return to crewed flights into space. In August, NASA announced the names of the astronauts that will crew the test flights of the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft. NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley have been selected to take part in the Crew Dragon test flight, slated to happen in 2019.