NASA has paid $5 million dollars to make sure that SpaceX employees don't use illegal drugs, Politico reports, citing the agency’s contracting records.
Last November, reports emerged that the space agency initiated a sweeping study of SpaceX and Boeing to ensure that the companies are “meeting NASA’s requirements for workplace safety, including the adherence to a drug-free environment”.
NASA didn’t initially name the reasons behind the probe, although following the reports NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine chided the “inappropriate” behaviour of Elon Musk, the eccentric SpaceX boss who smoked marijuana and sipped whiskey on the popular Joe Rogan podcast.
While recreational cannabis consumption has been legalised by several US states, including California, where the podcast was filmed, it remains illegal under federal law, so NASA’s move as a federal agency is quite understandable. “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,” Jim Bridenstine said at the time the review was announced.
SpaceX and Boeing, which were both contracted by NASA in 2014 to develop a spacecraft capable of ferrying astronauts to the International Space Station, launched the review this year. According to Politico, NASA agreed in May to reimburse the costs to SpaceX – but not Boeing – for the review process, which includes employee interviews at all levels.
This agreement is said to be outside of the scope of NASA’s current contract with SpaceX for the Crew Dragon capsule, awarded in 2014. Boeing, meanwhile, confirmed that it didn’t receive additional funds for the culture review.
“SpaceX worked closely with NASA to account for additional work beyond the scope of the contract,” said SpaceX spokesman James Gleeson.
NASA explained in a statement to Politico it is “standard practice” for a company to receive additional money for work not included in the original contract. The agency’s spokesman Joshua Finch said that “after discussions with Boeing… we decided we wouldn’t pursue a contract modification to carry out the assessment that’s underway”.
Space industry sources were quoted as saying that there has been no apparent precedent for NASA paying a contractor for an internal review similar to the one SpaceX is conducting. The report could spark concerns at Boeing over whether its rival is receiving preferential treatment from the government. The plane-maker has yet to comment.