NASA Chief Personally Ordered Safety Review of SpaceX, Boeing: Report

Crew Dragon and CST-100 Starliner
Artist’s illustrations of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner (left) and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsules in orbit. (Image credit: Boeing/SpaceX)

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine himself ordered the upcoming safety review of SpaceX and Boeing, which was reportedly prompted by Elon Musk's behavior on comedian Joe Rogan's podcast this past September, according to The Atlantic.

The Washington Post's Christian Davenport first reported the existence of that review, which is scheduled to begin next year and take months to complete. Davenport cited three unnamed officials, who said that top NASA brass were upset with Musk, who had sipped whiskey and smoked weed on The Joe Rogan Experience. 

Davenport talked to Bridenstine, who said he supported the review but did not mention who ordered it.

But at a gathering with reporters at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., yesterday (Nov. 29), Bridenstine said he himself got the wheels turning, according to The Atlantic's Marina Koren, who was there.

"I will tell you that was not helpful, and that did not inspire confidence, and the leaders of these organizations need to take that as an example of what to do when you lead an organization that’s going to launch American astronauts," Bridenstine said at the meeting yesterday, referring to Musk's behavior, Koren reported.

Both SpaceX and Boeing hold multibillion-dollar contracts to fly NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station. SpaceX will use its Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon capsule for this work, and Boeing will employ United Launch Alliance Atlas V rockets (at least initially) and a capsule called the CST-100 Starliner.

The first orbital test flights of Crew Dragon and Starliner are currently targeted for early next year, with crewed demo missions to follow in mid-2019.

Bridenstine also stressed that Musk's behavior wasn't the sole instigator of the upcoming assessments. He said at yesterday's meeting that he had wanted to initiate workplace-safety reviews of both companies even before the SpaceX founder and CEO partook with Rogan (which was not a crime, by the way; recreational marijuana use is legal in California, where the podcast was recorded). Such reviews are a "necessary and appropriate step when you’re launching humans on rockets," Bridenstine said, according to Koren.

There's a lot more detail in Koren's story; you can read the whole thing here.

Mike Wall's book about the search for alien life, "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate) is out now. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us @Spacedotcom or Facebook. Originally published on

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.