Two facts have become apparent about the relationship between Elon Musk and the Biden administration.
First, NASA and the military love how SpaceX has lowered the cost and raised the reliability of launching things into space. NASA is depending on SpaceX’s Starship Human Landing System to land astronauts on the moon for the first time since 1972.
Second, by all accounts, the Biden administration appears to have it in for the richest man in the world. Musk doesn’t think much of the current president and has publicly said that he would vote against him. The feud has the potential to derail the Artemis return to the moon program.
The latest shot fired concerns the Federal Communications Commission reversing an order providing a subsidy for Starlink to provide broadband internet to rural areas that do not have access to fiber optic cable. The subsidy was awarded in 2020 and provisionally yanked in 2022. The order was confirmed recently under suspicious circumstances.
Essentially, the FCC has a requirement of “100 megabits per second download speeds and 20 Mbps upload speeds.” Starlink has not yet met that requirement but expects to in the future when larger satellites can be deployed by the SpaceX Starship. However, the FCC has rescinded the subsidy from Starlink anyway. The FCC has not reported to have done so for any of the other competitors for the subsidy.
Brendon Carr, an FCC commissioner who dissented from the decision, is pretty sure that the rescinding of the subsidy is part of a political campaign of regulatory harassment against Musk by the Biden administration. He posted on X, in part, “It is a decision that cannot be explained by an objective application of law, facts, or policy.” He went on to accuse the FCC of making up an entirely new standard that applies only to SpaceX.
The losers, besides Musk, are rural Americans who will continue to be denied broadband internet access.
Another front in the regulatory harassment of Musk took place in August when the Justice Department sued SpaceX for refusing to hire refugees and asylum seekers. SpaceX countersued, claiming that the DOJ action was unconstitutional as well as denying the allegations of hiring discrimination. Recently, U.S. District Judge Rolando Olvera ruled in favor of SpaceX.
However, most concerning where America’s quest to return astronauts to the moon is concerned, is the regulatory morass that occurred between SpaceX’s first attempt to launch Starship in April and the second attempt in November, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Fish and Wildlife Service subjected the rocket company to months of environmental evaluation before authorizing the second attempt.
According to Space News, the two regulatory agencies sparked the wrath of Sen. Ted Cruz, (R-Texas), the ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee. Cruz stated, “I’m not advocating for a wholesale repeal of our environmental laws or NEPA. I’m just arguing for them not to be applied in a dumbass way that slows down commercial space.” He suggested that the delays jeopardized America’s standing in its space competition with Russia and China.
In the meantime, NASA has been attempting to impress upon the regulatory agencies the importance of Starship and its role in commercial space and America’s return to the moon. The FAA is currently investigating the second Starship launch attempt with no timetable for completion.
Do all of these actions constitute a systematic harassment of Elon Musk by the Biden administration? Some observers think so. Writing for the conservative site Hot Air, David Strom is pretty sure that Biden has “weaponized” the government against Musk. Writing for this publication, Liz Peek refers to the “alarming harassment” of Musk by Biden.
President Biden raised questions about the billionaire’s acquisition of Twitter, which could be the source of his ire.
“Whether or not he is doing anything inappropriate, I’m not suggesting that. I’m suggesting that it wor- — worth being looked at. And — and — but that’s all I’ll say.”
When asked how, Biden added, “There’s a lot of ways.”
The spectacle of an American president going to war against a private American citizen, no matter how rich, is frightening. The prospect of the feud delaying or even derailing America’s return to the moon is a threat to national security.
Either the president should stop his harassment or Congress should make him stop it. In any case, the president’s opponents in the 2024 elections should make it an issue.
Mark R. Whittington, who writes frequently about space policy, has published a political study of space exploration entitled “Why is It So Hard to Go Back to the Moon?” as well as “The Moon, Mars and Beyond,” and, most recently, “Why is America Going Back to the Moon?” He blogs at Curmudgeons Corner.
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