During a telecon, I asked Jim Bridenstine about Elon Musk's recent opinions on COVID-19. A voice on the line said, "wrong press conference. Move on." I'm told it was Elon.— Marina Koren (@marinakoren) April 30, 2020
NASA just picked Starship to contribute important technology to the agency's moon return. This is relevant.
Elon Musk tells COVID-19 reporter to 'move on'
The reporter, Marina Koren, tweeted about her experience asking Musk about COVID-19, saying: "During a telecon, I asked Jim Bridenstine (NASA Administrator) about Elon Musk's recent opinions on COVID-19. A voice said on the line, 'wrong press conference. Move on.' I'm told it was Elon." Koren continued: "NASA just picked Starship to contribute important technology to the agency's moon return. This is relevant."
The NASA press conference was held to declare the winners for the best concepts to land U.S. astronauts on the moon in 2024. The winners were SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Dynetics — all of whom will receive millions from NASA to develop concepts for new lunar landers, to be used in NASA's greater Artemis program to install a more permanent exploratory human presence on the moon.
UPDATE May 1, 3:50 PM EDT: Musk's tweets and Koren's question
The question Koren asked regarded the meaning of Musk's recent tweets, including one that said "FREE AMERICA NOW," perceived as a reply to ongoing social distancing measures across much of the United States, according to Gizmodo. Musk also previously expressed doubt about the gravity of the COVID-19 outbreak, which has so far left 60,000 people in the U.S. dead.
Since NASA just awarded SpaceX a massive $135 million contract for Starship project, Koren thought her question was "relevant," in her words.
She's not wrong. Musk's online activity has come into conflict with NASA, which once paid $5 million for a safety review when Musk smoked weed live with Joe Rogan on his podcast, according to Politico. Additionally, the global outbreak of COVID-19 has heavily disrupted businesses and other supply chains, which could put a damper on SpaceX projects, among other NASA bidders, and partners.
The coronavirus economic impact might also disrupt budgets to programs of SpaceX's, as U.S. Congress has yet to approve a NASA submission from this past February, according to SpaceNews. Meanwhile, NASA has requested more funds in light of its mandate to put people back on the moon by 2024.
UPDATE May 1, 4:00 PM EDT: NASA in the time of COVID-19
The most bizarre part of Musk's comment is the fact that — since NASA is a taxpayer-funded government agency — it's not exactly appropriate for the CEO to attempt to silence a journalist's question to a public servant.
Bridenstine later addressed Koren's question and said the space agency takes the COVID-19 outbreak "very seriously," reports CNBC. "We've had a number of people infected by it and, in fact, we've lost lives because of it at the agency," said Bridenstine.
This highlights the kind of challenges NASA will face in relying on private partners for crewed space missions. The space agency is in essence open to the influence and failings of executives, whether they be Musk or other, arguably more controversial figures — like Blue Origin CEO Jeff Bezos — who is also CEO of Amazon, a company in near-continuous labor disputes with employees while also seeking to hire 100,000 more.
No one knows what will become of NASA's Artemis mission in light of the global pandemic. Due to numerous economic disruptions, Congress could be forced to reallocate funds, and even delay funding for the 2024 mission to the moon. Whatever happens, we're keeping our eyes onward, and upward, to space.
This is breaking news, so be sure to return here for the latest developments.