Elon Musk interrupts NASA call during discussion of his coronavirus views


Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX.

Peter Parks | AFP | Getty Images

Elon Musk is having issues with conference calls lately.

Thursday afternoon, the¬†SpaceX CEO unexpectedly spoke up during a NASA conference call after the agency’s administrator, Jim Bridenstine, was asked about Musk’s recent comments on the coronavirus pandemic.

On Wednesday night, Musk, also CEO of Tesla, called shelter-in-place orders because of the virus “forcibly imprisoning people in their homes against all their constitutional rights,” on the automaker’s earnings call. He’s also made controversial comments on Twitter about the subject.

A day later, The Atlantic’s Marina Koren asked NASA’s Bridenstine for his view on Musk’s statements, given the agency’s notably more cautious approach to the coronavirus crisis.

“I would need to see specifically what was said,” Bridenstine said. “What I’m in charge of is how NASA responds and I’ll let SpaceX answer for how they respond to coronavirus.”

Koren asked for clarity on how that might change the agency’s close working relationship with SpaceX. Then Musk cut in.

“I think this is a different subject,” Musk said. “Wrong press conference, move on.”

NASA had not yet introduced Musk on the call, which was discussing nearly $1 billion in contract awards that the agency had just announced to companies including SpaceX. The contracts are for work on lunar landers that NASA wants to use to land astronauts on the Moon by 2024. Near the end of the NASA introduced Musk. He gave a statement of appreciation toward the agency for its support of SpaceX. 

Bridenstine noted during his response that NASA employees have died to Covid-19.

“We at NASA have taken the coronavirus pandemic very seriously,” Bridenstine said. “We’ve had a number of people infected by it and, in fact, we’ve lost lives because of it at the agency.”

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