NASA just announced that it will use SpaceX’s Starship to return Americans to the moon within the next few years. The announcement has understandably left many scratching their heads.
The space agency that spent decades battling costly delays and the occasional tragedy is now handing over $2 billion and the lives of its astronauts to a company that just intentionally disregarded Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) safety regulations and accidentally blew up four rockets in a row.
This decision has disaster written all over it.
For the past six months, NASA watched as SpaceX’s CEO Elon Musk and his band of rule-breakers lost all four of their Starship prototypes, with one December launch happening despite the FAA explicitly forbidding liftoff due to public endangerment concerns. As the FAA feared, that rocket exploded just off the coast of a small Texas town. Thankfully, no one was hurt.
Despite the concern expressed by regulators and even Congress over the events, Musk has shown no remorse, opting instead to chastise the government’s public safety standards. Oddly, NASA is rewarding Musk’s irresponsible behavior by handing him the keys to America’s preeminent space landing program.
NASA has never lost a life during a moon mission, and I’m confident that no one wishes to see this streak end. This upcoming mission will be the most dangerous yet, and with the way things stand now, it seems highly irresponsible to award a vital contract to Musk.
It’s not as if Musk’s Starship explosions are a fluke occurrence within his operations. In recent weeks, his auto-making enterprise, Tesla, has also demonstrated little concern for public safety.
Over the objections of America’s transportation safety regulators, Musk has pushed dangerous driving software onto America’s roads, which has resulted in a growing number of casualties since the start of the year. Yet, Musk is still planning on rolling out his software to the public in the coming weeks as if there is no reason for concern.
Successfully accomplishing NASA’s Artemis permanent moon base program, as well as the Gateway moon-orbiting space station, will require the strongest of safety measures to avoid disaster. And strong safety measures and Musk go together like sardines and chocolate cake.
There’s still some hope that incoming NASA administrator Bill Nelson will review the situation once he’s confirmed later this month. Nelson, a former U.S. Senator from Florida, has never been afraid to confront SpaceX after its lapses in quality control.
Back in 2015, after a cargo mission ended in a fireball, Sen. Nelson personally met with SpaceX and NASA officials to figure out what went wrong. He made clear afterward that while lost cargo could be tolerated, lost lives could not.
If NASA doesn’t take its commitment to safety seriously, the moon mission could end up like Musk’s other endeavors – up in smoke. The last thing Americans want is a national tragedy because NASA trusted someone who has no regard for safety.
Drew Johnson is a government watchdog who serves as a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.