We joked a month or two ago that some would be wondering what Elon Musk had been smoking when they found out that the latest BFS (now called Starship) design had been deliberately changed to make it look more like Tintin’s rocket ship. Now NASA is apparently doing the same. NASA is starting investigations into Boeing and SpaceX, in particular, looking at their “safety cultures” and the way they work as they design vehicles to carry NASA astronauts. The Washington Post has suggested that it was Elon Musk’s act of smoking a spliff of marijuana on an on-line radio show that triggered the study. It might have been a one-off incident but it was apparently enough to make NASA’s Administrator Jim Bridenstein think twice. Bridenstein has since revealed that he has received an undertaking from Elon Musk that he won’t do it again.
Elon Musk is, of course, SpaceX’s chief designer in addition to being its founder and driving force (along with the company’s president Gwynne Shotwell). And let’s face it, as Musk designs the Crew Dragon spacecraft’s safety systems, NASA wants to make sure that he is not regularly smoking a spliff/joint as he does so, nor “chasing the dragon” or “puffing the magic dragon” either (not that he would risk any of the opiates).
That said, some still suggest that drug taking improves creativity. Your correspondent is not sure about that, although several 1960s rock groups experimented with LSD on this quest. Some reputedly take drugs just to hold off the ennui of life. While he is fictional (albeit based on real people), private detective genius Sherlock Holmes famously injected a “seven per cent” solution of cocaine just to stop his boredom.
The NASA investigations themselves will not be examining any specific technical concerns with the SpaceX and Boeing companies’ designs, but more specifically they will investigate design teams’ working style including how they work together and whether it would have any likely effect on crew safety. The study will examine not only business culture – for example SpaceX famously has more of an experimental “try it until it fails” culture compared with Boeing’s more traditionally cautious (and much slower and less innovative) design and test approach – but also design staff behaviour including any possible drug use. A series of interviews with both firms’ employees is planned as part of the study.
While drug taking during design should be frowned upon, let us hope that the NASA team does not go too far and ban untidy desks at Boeing and SpaceX as well. For there remains an ongoing argument about whether one should, or should not, have a tidy desk. Your correspondent now works from home, but when he worked at an office he was often under pressure – usually by “retentive” types in the hierarchy – to tidy his debris-strewn desk.
The problem here for those who love tidiness is that research has shown that creativity and clear thinking have been proven to be aided by an untidy desk. Likewise, some other studies have shown that untidiness is a sign of intelligence. Einstein himself was famously said to have an untidy work desk as did Steve Jobs and Thomas Edison. Mind you, the same research says that untidy intelligent types also tend to swear more. And your correspondent would like to “f***ing well attest to that!” And if anyone tries to interfere with his desk…well they can Foxtrot Oscar as well.
Mind you, an untidy desk he may have, but smoking a spliff is not something your correspondent has tended to indulge in – especially if he has been trying to design a spacecraft or work out what has gone wrong on one.
Of course, nothing tempts like temptation. And whether it is to extra strong mints or crack cocaine, some unfortunates can become addicted. Well, both are very moreish. 🙂
Joking aside, the use of strong mints has also long been employed to cover up the breath-smell signs of that other long-term destructive addiction – alcoholism. So having minty breath might also be a giveaway. Let us hope that others can recover from alcohol dependency as well Apollo 11 moon landing hero Buzz Aldrin did. Your correspondent did buy him a drink once. Thankfully Buzz asked for a non-alcoholic one.