Elon Musk’s Tech Has Geopolitical Clout. Things Are Going to Get Weird.
All of this points to something crucial: the U.S. military and Elon Musk are now hopelessly intertwined. The Pentagon has become enraptured with Musk and the Silicon Valley ethos and awarded contracts to SpaceX in the millions. It wants to be more like these voracious venture capitalists when it comes to technology. Musk and other VCs love making money, and few things are as lucrative and guaranteed as a military contract. They’re stuck with each other.The problem is that Musk often goes off the rails. He’s tried to negotiate peace between Ukraine and Russia, told a journalist that China should have more control over Taiwan, and smoked weed with Joe Rogan . He’s even been accused of speaking directly with Vladimir Putin, something Musk denied. But the U.S. government has had to deal with all these messes, either by spending millions in taxpayer money for an investigation or by anonymously commenting on leaked documents in a major news outlet.NASA and the Pentagon love Musk when he’s making rockets and satellites for them. The Space Force wants to use Musk ’s rockets to move cargo around the planet. But he’s also been a pain in the ass. He’s a high profile weirdo who loves to tweet and constantly gets himself into the kind of trouble that the Pentagon doesn’t like. Case in point: In 2018, Musk went on the Joe Rogan show and smoked weed . For most of the population, this is an innocuous action. But military contracts come with provisos that require companies to have drug-free environments.It’s a dumb rule, to be sure, but one that Washington and the Pentagon take seriously. “If I see something that’s inappropriate, the key concern to me is what is the culture that led to that inappropriateness and is NASA involved in that,” then NASA administrator Jim Bridestone told The Washington Post after the Rogan incident. “As an agency we’re not just leading ourselves, but our contractors, as well. We need to show the American public that when we put an astronaut on a rocket, they’ll be safe.”It’s a good thing, because all the rockets that aren’t SpaceX use the RD-180 rocket engine which is only manufactured in Russia. In March, Russia cut off the United States’ supply of these components. U.S. companies have been working towards weaning itself off of the Russian rocket engines since 2014, but the sudden loss was a small shock to the system—one that Musk is poised to benefit from. As of this writing, ULA (which is owned by Lockheed Martin and Boeing) still has a slim majority of the Pentagon ’s rocket contracts, and SpaceX isn’t far behind.No one knows why the systems went down, but some observers pointed the finger at Musk . “It is absolutely clear to me that this is being done by representatives of Starlink to prevent the usage of their technology by Russian occupation forces,” Roman Sinicyn, the coordinator of a charity that donates Starlink’s to Ukraine, told Financial Times. “This operation has cost SpaceX $80M & will exceed $100M by end of year,” Musk said in a tweet calling that report inaccurate. “As for what’s happening on the battlefield, that’s classified.”A week later, CNN broke the story that SpaceX had told the Pentagon it couldn’t keep paying for Starlink in Ukraine. According to CNN, it turns out that the U.S. and Poland had been footing most of the bill for the satellite communications network all along. Around 85 percent of the 20,000 terminals weren’t paid for by Starlink. Anonymous Pentagon officials told CNN they were pissed, calling out SpaceX for having the “gall to act like heroes” then sticking the Pentagon with a bill for tens of millions of dollars.
NASA and the Pentagon love Musk when he’s making rockets and satellites for them. Case in point: In 2018, Musk went on the Joe Rogan show and smoked weed.