During an event with NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine on Thursday, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk publicly stated that the agency can share SpaceX’s intellectual property with whomever it wants—not that NASA seems especially eager to.
Bridenstine and Musk met at the SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California, in an effort to ease growing tension between the aerospace company and the federal agency. The strain was made public two weeks ago when Bridenstine posted a statement on Twitter prior to Musk’s recent update on his Starship spacecraft. The administrator suggested Musk should prioritize its NASA contract to send astronauts to the International Space Station on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon.
Musk responded to the tweet during a CNN interview, saying “Did he say commercial crew or SLS?” jokingly referencing NASA’s Space Launch System rocket, the development of which has been delayed for years.
Bridenstine responded to the quip during an interview with the Atlantic. “Well, I don’t think that’s helpful,” Bridenstine said. “SLS, that’s a whole different mission. SLS is going to the moon. So I don’t know why you would compare the two.”
Standing together on Thursday for an update on their joint commercial crew program, Musk and Bridenstine seemed interested in deescalating the row, exchanging compliments and emphasizing their shared goal.
Perhaps as an olive branch or as a way to show that he’s the good guy, Musk reminded Bridenstine that NASA can share SpaceX’s IP with anyone.
As Tech Crunch points out, Musk brought the matter up twice. “I’ve been very very clear with Jim that any SpaceX data should not be considered proprietary,” Musk said during a Q and A. “It can be used by any of our competitors... No charge.”
Musk reiterated the point later: “I want to be clear: NASA can share all of our IP with anyone that NASA wants.”
Bridenstine responded by thanking Musk, but clarifying that there are reasons that NASA has to be cautious about who it shares information with. “There is IP that it is in the interest of the nation that we cannot be sharing with people, or with countries that would not have our interest at heart,” Bridenstine said, according to TechCrunch.
While Musk seems to be presenting himself as a visionary who wants his innovations to proliferate so humans can explore the universe, NASA had to remind him that the government is more concerned with others on Earth who want to use that technology for goals that conflict with American interests.