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article imageNASA paid SpaceX $5 million for employee safety review

By Karen Graham     Oct 18, 2019 in World
During a podcast with comedian Joe Rogan in September 2018, Elon Musk sipped whiskey and puffed a little weed while musing at length about artificial intelligence, colonizing space, and the need to give love a chance. NASA was not impressed.
After the incident that was viewed by nearly 90,000 people who tuned into the live-streaming podcast, NASA ordered a review of the SpaceX workplace and culture to make sure that none of the employees at the commercial space company were doing drugs.
And just to be fair, they also ordered the same review for Boeing employees. Remember now - both SpaceX and Boeing are government contractors - working on projects for NASA. Boeing had to have the same review and pay for the job itself and the company says it doesn't know yet what that tab will be.
However, taxpayers, not SpaceX, are bearing the cost of the company's review. The space agency agreed to pay SpaceX $5 million in May to cover the cost of the review, which includes educating its employees and ensuring they are following strict guidelines for federal contractors barring illegal drug use.
Of course, the strange way the reviews were handled caused some space industry insiders to wonder what was going on. After all, Musk does hold a security clearance and is a contractor for the government. But it all goes back to Musk smoking that weed for all the world to see.
Elon Musk at SpaceX control center
Elon Musk at SpaceX control center
Emily Shanklin
Pete Garrettson, a recently retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, and space strategist is curious about the payment arrangement. “As a taxpayer why would I pay when I don’t have to?” he asked. "If I was Boeing, I also would have said, ‘Why am I being punished without the same compensation?’"
Musk was in California at the time of the government infraction, and it is but one of a number of states where it is legal to smoke recreational marijuana, but this did not make any difference to NASA.
The federal agency goes by the government's rules and marijuana is an illegal drug, and the use of illegal drugs violates the terms of the government security clearance that Musk holds because of SpaceX and NASA's partnership.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine told the Washington Post at the time the review was announced, “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 added, “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.”
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