SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk would very much like the president to pay a little more attention to him, it seems.
This weekend, SpaceX completed its Inspiration4 mission, the first all-civilian mission to orbit, which used one of the company’s Crew Dragon crew capsules. It’s a big achievement for the company to be sure, but Joe Biden has yet to publicly acknowledge the launch. Why isn’t clear. Perhaps the administration just doesn’t feel every single thing the handful of billionaires rushing to conquer space needs a comment. Or it could have to do with Musk being a political liability. He’s infamously nasty on Twitter, while Tesla has reportedly long employed anti-union tactics and is facing down a battle with federal auto safety regulators investigating its Autopilot feature. Musk also spent much of the coronavirus pandemic parroting anti-lockdown rhetoric and, according to Texas Governor Greg Abbott, is completely on board with an extreme abortion ban in the state.
Regardless of the exact reason for the perceived snub, Musk is miffed that like virtually every other American, the president hasn’t personally praised him today. Hence this snippy tweet on Sunday seemingly referencing Donald Trump’s “Sleepy Joe” nickname for the POTUS, which has predictably set off a round of media coverage:
Musk later replied “Seems that way” to a meme portraying the United Auto Workers, which Tesla has long tried to suppress from organizing workers at its auto plants, as having a facehugger-like stranglehold on Biden’s face. Tesla was recently not on the invite list at a White House event promoting electric vehicles, quite possibly because of its anti-union record. This month, Musk has publicly complained that a Biden administration proposal to give a $12,500 tax incentive to buyers of electric vehicles must have been written by “Ford/UAW lobbyists” because it includes a $4,500 credit for cars that are union-made.
What could be said about this is that it’s pretty standard Musk stuff, referring to both the tweeting what might have been left better unsaid, the paper-thin ego drawing trouble for one of his companies, and the pages of resulting coverage on Google News (including this article). He’s historically been pretty contemptuous of the government when it isn’t doing exactly what he wants it to do. That includes a long-running spat with the Securities and Exchange Commission, a showdown with health authorities in California over whether Tesla workers were “essential” during the pandemic, and the concerns over Autopilot raised by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). While the NTSB doesn’t have the kind of regulatory authority necessary to interfere with Tesla’s plans to roll out upgraded “Full Self-Driving Capability,” the agency has already warned that Tesla needs to address “basic safety issues” before doing so. Its chief, Jennifer Homendy, has called Tesla’s marketing of the feature “misleading and irresponsible.”
As CNN noted, the SpaceX flight was acknowledged repeatedly by Bill Nelson, who as the Biden-appointed administrator of NASA overseeing the Commercial Crew Program is of course the federal official whose job description most closely entails weighing in on successful private missions to orbit.
On Saturday, Nelson tweeted, “Congratulations #Inspiration4! With today’s splashdown, you’ve helped demonstrate that low-Earth orbit is open for business.” Nelson had also previously commented on the day of the Inspiration4 launch, tweeting “Low-Earth orbit is now more accessible for more people to experience the wonders of space. We look forward to the future—one where NASA is one of many customers in the commercial space market. Onward & upward.”