NASA confident in SpaceX after raucous Twitter takeover by Elon Musk: report

elon musk wearing an 'occupy mars' t-shirt
SpaceX founder Elon Musk. (Image credit: Michael Gonzalez/Getty Images)

Upheaval on Twitter under its new owner, SpaceX founder Elon Musk, is not distracting SpaceX from delivering on NASA's needs, the agency administrator said.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said that the tumultuous Twitter takeover has not affected SpaceX's work to date. He also received personal assurances about billionaire Elon Musk from one of SpaceX's senior officials, according to NBC News (opens in new tab). Nelson spoke with Gwynne Shotwell, a long-time employee of SpaceX who is also the company's president and chief operating officer, on Dec. 5, the report noted. The two were attending the Kennedy Center Honors, an American culture celebration, in Washington, D.C.

When he asked whether Twitter was a distraction, Shotwell told Nelson, "I assure you, it is not," Nelson said in the NBC report published Sunday (Dec. 11).

"As you know, she has been designated as the person to lead SpaceX," Nelson said. "So I take it straight from what we in the south say: the horse's mouth. And she's the horse that's running SpaceX."

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SpaceX received its first contract from NASA in 2014 and is responsible for sending astronauts to the International Space Station, along with a large share of its cargo, on variants of the Dragon spacecraft. Starting in 2025 or 2026, SpaceX has also been tasked with landing NASA astronauts on the moon on Artemis 3 and Artemis 4 using Starship, a new spaceship that has yet to achieve orbit despite recently targeting a Dec. 1 flight.

Even before Musk took over Twitter on Oct. 28, his behavior has caused consternation for some. On Twitter before the takeover, various media reports indicated, he used crude jokes (opens in new tab) and insults (opens in new tab) and even called a rescuer of Thai children a pedophile (opens in new tab). Musk, who was Time Magazine's 2021 person of the year, was in recent months accused of sexual misconduct with a flight attendant in 2016; his behavior of "distraction and embarrassment" was also the subject of an open letter by numerous anonymous employees of SpaceX.

In photos: The 20 most memorable SpaceX missions from its 1st 20 years

A Starship test vehicle. (Image credit: SpaceX)

Musk's new ownership has changed the landscape of Twitter's culture considerably, numerous media reports have said. He removed its board and most of its senior executive team, suddenly laid off more than half (opens in new tab) of the company's then-7,500 employees, insisted that those who remain commit to "hardcore" work (opens in new tab) with "long hours at high intensity," forced the previously remote workforce back into the office (opens in new tab) with a few days' notice, and reportedly installed sleeping quarters on site (opens in new tab), among numerous other changes.

Musk also reinstituted numerous controversial Twitter accounts, including the Twitter account of President Donald Trump (opens in new tab). Trump had been banned from the platform after playing a crucial role in the Jan. 6, 2021, riots on Capitol Hill; Trump had falsely declared the federal election results were counterfeit and asked the U.S. people to take action on that.

Advertisers have been fleeing the platform (opens in new tab) in the meantime, lessening Twitter's revenues considerably. Musk's first attempt to institute "verified" $8 subscription accounts (opens in new tab) last month created a slew of parody accounts spreading disinformation in mere hours, until the venture was shut down. 

Long-time NASA contractor Lockheed Martin was among the companies that may have lost billions (opens in new tab) in the stock market after a "verified" fake Lockheed account tweeted (opens in new tab) that the aerospace giant would stop its military sales to the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Elizabeth Howell is the co-author of "Why Am I Taller (opens in new tab)?" (ECW Press, 2022; with Canadian astronaut Dave Williams), a book about space medicine. Follow her on Twitter @howellspace (opens in new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or Facebook (opens in new tab).

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. Elizabeth's reporting includes an exclusive with Office of the Vice-President of the United States, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and (soon) a Bachelor of History from Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace

  • Bigref
    Why on Earth would there be a question about SpaceX competence because of Twitter? I expect that a close look at the early days of the Twitter takeover and privatization could well be a blueprint for current and future tech businesses. Twitter is humming along nicely with roughly half its previous employees and none of their espresso machines. SpaceX is an efficient, streamlined technology company that is leaving most of the other private space launch enterprises in the dust. Has there been a similar article about Blue Origin because of Amazon? Of course not, nor should there be, because it is ridiculous - as is this silly article.
    Reply