There’s a bit of a kerfuffle over a Washington Post article that claims, without proof (just thought I’d use that expression that’s so popular these days), that NASA is going to do a culture review of SpaceX and Boeing because Elon Musk allegedly smoked pot during a Joe Rogan podcast.
Elon Musk smoking a blunt for the first time on Joe Rogan's podcast is Internet gold pic.twitter.com/nx8zQ7HlyB
— gifdsports (@gifdsports) September 7, 2018
What does seem to be true is that NASA is conducting a review of the culture at both companies. The bit about the joint may or not be true but there’s certainly a lot to be concerned about when someone with a security clearance uses illegal drugs.
Hint, Elon — Marijuana is still considered an illegal drug as far as the federal government is concerned and it wouldn’t be very good for you or your company if you lost your security clearance!
There’s an old saying that FISH STINK FROM THE HEAD.
Meaning that organizations fail because of leadership failures.
One thing I also believe is that employees will mimic the attitudes of their leadership. If the president of a company starts wearing a tie, ties will all of the sudden be required apparel for men and women will up their game as well. If executives buy expensive bottles of wine at dinner, you can bet every other employee will feel it’s OK to buy expensive bottles of wine. Ultimately, this will result in the president being totally nonplussed at the rise in alcohol expenses resulting in the inevitable memo saying to cut it out.
Both SpaceX and Boeing issued statements about how they have a drug free work environment.
My guess is that this has a lot more to do than with Elon smoking a joint. This feels like NASA grabbing the reins back from its subcontractors and reasserting who’s really in charge here. SpaceX is at risk of losing their manned space contracts if this review doesn’t go well. The SpaceX contract is worth $2.4B and it could go away at the whim of NASA.
Probably at the heart of this is still the o-ring design issues that doomed the Space Shuttle Challenger. We all know that the o-rings failed because they were too cold. But why were there o-rings in the first place? Well, because Senators Jake Garn and Frank Moss lobbied for Morton Thiokol in Brigham City, Utah.
Here’s the thing about Utah; while it does have a big lake, it doesn’t have access to any waterways. What that means is that the solid rocket boosters would need to be build in multiple pieces so they could be transported by truck. And how do you fit them together? O-rings. Ultimately, the design was doomed from the start due to political concerns.
From then on it was all about making the best of a bad decision.
You could actually go back even further where the use of solid rocket boosters as a cost savings method was hotly contested by engineers. In particular, placing the boosters at the side of the orbiter greatly increased the risk of an inability to abort should a booster fail.
All in all, an entire series of bad decisions related to arbitrary cost considerations as well as political decisions resulted in the destruction of Challenger.
I’m pretty sure that’s what NASA’s concerned about. It only takes that one initial bad decision to cause a cascade of bad decisions. Being stoned probably isn’t the best way to start.