NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said he saw the head of SpaceX last weekend and wanted to hear just one thing from her in light of company owner Elon Musk’s tumultuous Twitter takeover.
“Tell me that the distraction that Elon might have on Twitter is not going to affect SpaceX,” Nelson, recalling the conversation, said he asked Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX’s president and COO.
“I assure you, it is not,” Shotwell responded, according to Nelson. “You have nothing to worry about.”
Nelson, who first mentioned the exchange earlier Sunday after a news conference in Houston, said the encounter took place after the Kennedy Center Honors in Washington D.C., on Dec. 5 and that it was completely friendly because he knows Shotwell — not Musk — is running SpaceX.
“I hugged her with a smile on my face, because I know she is running that thing. She’s running SpaceX,” Nelson said.
Asked whether he has any concerns about SpaceX, Nelson said, “No, I don’t."
NASA pays billions to SpaceX to shuttle astronauts and cargo to and from the International Space Station. The company also won the competition to take Americans to the moon at the end of 2025 as part of NASA's Artemis 3 mission.
"That one will go into lunar orbit, and the crew will transfer into a SpaceX lander, and that will go down to the surface of the moon," Nelson said, praising SpaceX for cutting costs and providing good service "in terms of delivery of both crew and cargo to the International Space Station."
SpaceX couldn’t be immediately reached for comment Sunday.
Nelson, a former U.S. senator and House member from Florida, used to represent the Kennedy Space Center in his old congressional district, and he flew on a Space Shuttle Columbia mission as a House member in 1986.
Nelson, a longtime friend and former Senate colleague of President Joe Biden’s, was tapped to lead NASA last year and has been a booster of public-private space exploration, especially with SpaceX. Citing a Defense Department official, Nelson told a Senate panel in May that SpaceX might have saved taxpayers as much as $40 billion in launch costs.
Soon after he took over NASA, Nelson had a major Twitter troll problem, but it had nothing to do with Musk — it concerned belligerent tweets by Dimitry Olegovich Rogozin, the head of the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, who suggested Moscow could crash the International Space Station into Earth or leave a U.S. astronaut behind. Nelson urged calm, and soon Russian President Vladimir Putin replaced Rogozin with Yuri Borisov, whom Nelson calls a “real professional.”
From a space perspective, Nelson said, the relationship with Russia is a “very professional relationship, and it’s been that way ever since 1975, Apollo–Soyuz,” which was the first crewed international space mission between the U.S. and Russia, known then as the Soviet Union.
And as for Musk’s tweets, Nelson said he’s not focusing on them beyond the friendly exchange with Shotwell.
“The proof is in the pudding,” Nelson said. “Look at what SpaceX is delivering in crew and cargo to the space station.”
CORRECTION (Dec. 19, 2022, 11:00 a.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated one of Gwynne Shotwell’s titles at SpaceX. She is the president and the COO, not the CEO.