Shouldn’t NASA Get High?

Jim Bridenstine is the Trump-appointed head of NASA who called out SpaceX founder Elon Musk for smoking cannabis in an Internet podcast. Mr. Bridenstine is also a former Oklahoma congressman and a Navy pilot who flew E-2C Hawkeye aircraft in the South American drug war. No fan of marijuana, the NASA administrator wants to subject NASA contractors SpaceX and Boeing to an inquisitorial scrutiny of their corporate cultures:

NASA has ordered a safety review of the two companies it has hired to fly astronauts to the International Space Station, a months-long assessment that would involve hundreds of interviews designed to examine “everything and anything that could impact safety” as the companies prepare to fly humans for the first time, William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for human exploration, said in an interview with The Washington Post. […]

Bridenstine said he ordered safety reviews of SpaceX and Boeing, another NASA contractor — which were first reported by The Washington Post earlier this month — but stressed that he had wanted the reviews of their corporate culture before Musk was filmed smoking weed.

According to The Atlantic, Bridenstine said his decision was influenced by tragedies in NASA’s history, including the Apollo 1 fire in 1967, which killed three astronauts during a ground test, as well as the Challenger and Columbia space shuttle disasters in 1986 and 2003.

Bridenstine said that a frequent question was whether the culture at NASA and its contractors contributed to those accidents. “Were there people that were raising a red flag that we didn’t listen to, and ultimately did that culture contribute to the failure and, in those cases, to disaster?” he said. […]

The Apollo 1 and Space Shuttle disasters had nothing to do with drugs or drug affiliated cultures. The shuttle mishaps were attributed to a Nixon-appointed NASA leader selected for political reasons. Nixon wanted to pay back Utah and the LDS Church for their enthusiastic political support of him and his policies. The bureaucrat he appointed to NASA effectively promoted the problematic shuttle spacecraft design that was to be serviced by Morton-Thiokol, a Utah-based contractor. Morton-Thiokol’s authoritarian corporate culture resulted in company officials dismissing their own non-authoritarian but highly qualified engineer’s assessments and repeated complaints regarding partial O-ring failures in previous space missions. A total O-ring failure caused the 1986 Challenger explosion.

Imagination and an absence of authoritarianism are crucial for anticipating engineering defects, correcting flaws, or inventing new solutions before failures occur. Bridenstine’s safety inspection threatens those who for professional reasons draw inspiration from mind expanding substances.

Famed astrophysicist Carl Sagan boosted his imagination by smoking weed and writing physics equations on the fogged glass of his shower stall. Nobel laureate Francis Crick, co-discoverer of the helical structure of DNA, said he was inspired by taking LSD. Today’s Silicon Valley is crowded with smart, talented and dedicated professionals who sometimes use low-dose psychedelics to boost their imagination quotient — citizens likely to be targeted by Bridenstine’s inquiry. By using the drug war to obstruct or eliminate alleged deplorables the current NASA administrator may be planting the seeds for space flight’s next big catastrophe.

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