NASA and Elon Musk make up over astronaut-flying spat – Quartz

NASA and Elon Musk make up over astronaut-flying spat – Quartz

Elon Musk
Five years into the most ambitious partnership between a space agency and a technology company, tensions are running high—but isn’t that to be expected when you’re trying to strap humans to a tube of explosives and hurl them into space?The US government has not flown humans into orbit since 2011, when the space shuttle was retired, and in 2014 it hired SpaceX and Boeing to build and operate replacement vehicles that will ferry astronauts to the International Space Station.NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine and SpaceX founder Elon Musk met today at the latter’s headquarters near Los Angeles. Their confab came after Bridenstine questioned SpaceX’s commitment to delivering the new spacecraft his agency desperately needs. Today, the two men struck a conciliatory tone, emphasizing their shared desire to fly people into orbit safely and praising each other’s teams. Bridenstine even said he has high hopes SpaceX’s next rocket, called Starship—after regular service to ISS is restored.NASA is paying SpaceX some $2.6 billion to develop a crew-carrying version of its Dragon spacecraft, while Boeing, the world’s largest aerospace company, building a spacecraft called Starliner, for which it is being paid more than $4.2 billion. Both vehicles were originally expected to launch in 2017, ....

Successfully flying astronauts again may be the biggest accomplishment he can target in his tenure, which has been framed as an effort to get NASA’s various delayed programs back on track.For NASA, the moon mission and commercial crew are linked: Bridenstine related that on a recent official visit to Japan, he was unable to promise that a Japanese astronaut could be onboard the ISS during the 2020 Olympics—a point of prestige for the nation—because of the uncertainty surrounding commercial crew. That, in turn, made it difficult to secure Japanese funding and participation in NASA’s lunar return. It will also be difficult to fund the moon program if NASA must keep paying $85 million per seat to fly astronauts on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft.Musk, meanwhile, counts the US space agency as his most important customer. Without contracts to resupply the International Space Station and launch science missions—as well as years of support and development funding—SpaceX would be unable to pursue Musk’s plans of pushing humanity out into the solar system.After Musk showed Bridenstine the latest flight hardware and the two discussed their schedules, both tried to stay on message, and mostly did.
Still, when Bridenstine allowed that funding cuts had slowed commercial ....

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