It appeared that there was recently some tension between NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk regarding the American space agency’s International Space Station transportation needs and the commercial space company’s abilities to meet them.
A combination of sparring Tweets over Twitter and hasty comments made in news program interviews made it obvious that both parties severely needed to meet to discuss the problems at hand. Fortunately, such a meeting took place this past week, enabling both NASA and SpaceX to reevaluate the requirements to achieve a realistic crewed launch timeline.
Image Credit: Alex Gallardo/Associated Press
After Bridenstine and Musk met at SpaceX’s Hawthorne, California-based headquarters, they conducted a press conference during which the two discussed the apparent sparring and appeared to renew trust and understanding with one another. How that’ll hold up over the coming months, however, remains to be seen.
Bridenstine recently blasted SpaceX on Twitter, noting that the company should focus more on its contracted obligation to NASA than its personal Starship endeavors, but in the press conference, he had this to say:
"What we're trying to do is get back to a day where we have realistic cost and schedules. So I was signaling—and I haven't done it just to SpaceX, but to all of our contractors—that we need more realism built into the development timelines."
But Bridenstine wasn’t the only one guilty of firing shots. Musk too made a public display when he was conducting an interview with CNN. There, he jokingly responded to the Tweet with, “Did he say Commercial Crew or S.L.S.?”
SpaceX was poised to send astronauts to the International Space Station for the first time this year, and that timeline was pushed back time and time again because of NASA’s strenuous safety reviews, which exist to prevent accidents with living astronauts onboard. Abolishing or shortening those reviews could put astronauts at a higher risk of injury or death, but to SpaceX, it would mean getting equipment into the field more quickly to meet NASA’s deadlines.
NASA doesn’t want to see anyone get hurt, and so it should come as no surprise that the space agency won’t budge on its reviews. Instead, NASA appeared to give SpaceX a bit of leeway for testing by pushing the estimated crewed launch date to the first quarter of 2020.
Both Bridenstine and Musk appeared to agree that they’d like to see at least 10 successful tests before they’re ready to put living astronauts onboard for a launch mission. The two men were accompanied by commercial crew astronauts during the press conference, and they noted how they wouldn’t move forward with anything the astronauts weren’t comfortable with.
After getting everything out that needed to be said, both NASA and SpaceX appeared to kiss and make up, with Bridenstine saying that SpaceX was a wonderful partner to work with and Musk saying that it was an honor to work with NASA. On the other hand, we’ll just have to wait and see how everything plays out to see whether those kind words hold up if additional delays surface.