SpaceX CEO Elon Musk talks to his workforce as he announces the world’s first private passenger scheduled to fly around the Moon aboard SpaceX’s BFR launch vehicle, at the company’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California, the US, in this file photo taken on September 17, 2018. Picture: REUTERS/GENE BLEVINS
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk talks to his workforce as he announces the world’s first private passenger scheduled to fly around the Moon aboard SpaceX’s BFR launch vehicle, at the company’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California, the US, in this file photo taken on September 17, 2018. Picture: REUTERS/GENE BLEVINS

Washington — Nasa, the US space agency has ordered a sweeping safety review of operations and workplace culture, including drug-free policies, at Boeing and SpaceX, two companies working to send astronauts to space, US media said on Tuesday.

The review was “prompted by the recent behaviour of SpaceX’s founder, Elon Musk, according to three officials with knowledge of the probe, after he took a hit of marijuana and sipped whiskey on a podcast streamed on the Internet”, said the Washington Post, which first reported on the story.

Nasa declined to comment on the allegations, but confirmed the review would start next year as the agency focuses “on safe and successful commercial crew missions” to the International Space Station (ISS).

“In the coming months, prior to the crew test flights of Crew Dragon and Starliner, Nasa will be conducting a cultural assessment study in co-ordination with our commercial partners to ensure the companies are meeting Nasa’s requirements for workplace safety, including the adherence to a drug-free environment,” said the Nasa statement.

“We fully expect our commercial partners to meet all workplace safety requirements in the execution of our missions and the services they provide the American people. As always, Nasa will ensure they do so.”

Musk, who is also CEO of Tesla Motors, has faced increased scrutiny over his volatile behavior, including smoking marijuana during a podcast interview earlier this year and assailing a man involved in the Thailand cave rescue as a “pedo guy”.

In response to the news of the inquiry, SpaceX said in a statement: “Human spaceflight is the core mission of our company. There is nothing more important to SpaceX than this endeavour, and we take seriously the responsibility that Nasa has entrusted in us to safely and reliably carry American astronauts to and from the ISS.”

The company added it “actively promotes workplace safety, and we are confident that our comprehensive drug-free workforce and workplace programmes exceed all applicable contractual requirements”.

Boeing also insisted its culture “ensures the integrity, safety and quality of our products, our people and their work environment,” a spokesperson said in a statement e-mailed to AFP. “As Nasa’s trusted partner since the beginning of human spaceflight, we share the same values and are committed to continuing our legacy of trust, openness and mission success.”

Both SpaceX and Boeing plan to launch their first unmanned flights of spacecraft that will eventually carry people to the ISS early in 2019, followed by the first crewed flights later in the year. The spaceships aim to restore US capacity to send astronauts to space.

The retirement of the US space shuttle programme in 2011 has left the US without it own spacecraft for ferrying astronauts. Instead, the world’s astronauts must now buy tickets aboard Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft at a cost of some $80m per seat.

AFP