“It’s floundering, it does not have the support of the American people that’s needed, what’s your comment?” asked Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, a former congressman, on Saturday at the National Governors Association meeting in Providence, Rhode Island.
“I’m a big fan of NASA. In fact at one point, my password was ‘I Love NASA,’ literally that was my password,” Musk said, noting that the agency does a lot of great work in the fields of hard science with telescopes like Hubble and the James Webb, as well as the rovers on Mars and probes that venture deep into the solar system.
“Most of the public, they’re not really into hard science. It’s not the thing they’re tuning in for most of the time,” Musk said before getting into how he thinks the agency can recapture the public’s imagination:
To get the public excited, you’ve really got to get people in the picture. It’s just a hundred times different if there are people in the picture. And if there’s some criticism of NASA, it’s important to remember, people in the picture if you want to get the public’s support. But if you talk to scientists about that, [they’ll say] “where is the science in that?” It’s like, “you’re not getting it.” That’s not why people are giving you money. I mean it’s a little bit of the reason, the serious scientists are like, “people just make things more expensive; why do we have people.” OK, why do we have people at all, anywhere? Sometimes the scientists are the ones who just don’t understand. Smart people, but you know. You got to have something that’s going to fire people up and get them really excited and I think if we had a serious goal of having a base on the moon and sending people to Mars, and said, “OK, we’re going to be outcome-oriented, how are we going to this?”
He did take a moment to criticize so-called “cost-plus-sole-source contracts,” aka “no-bid” contracts, that, he argued, eliminate competition. As the CEO of SpaceX — a newcomer to aerospace when compared the likes of Boeing and Lockheed Martin — he especially doesn’t like the unfair practice. Also, the contracts, Musk said, include an incentive structure that indirectly encourages the contractor to extend the life of a project because the contractor receives a percentage of the overall cost of the job.
“They never want that gravy train to end,” Musk said. “They become cost maximizers.”
Skip ahead to the 1:27:02 to watch the full exchange.