NASA administrator Bill Nelson says he can’t firm up plans to return Americans to the moon by 2024 until a lawsuit against the space agency, brought by Jeff Bezos’ space company Blue Origin, is resolved. The suit contends that NASA should not have chosen Elon Musk’s SpaceX to build a lander that will carry astronauts to the lunar surface.
Specifically, the suit hinges on “flight readiness reviews,” or FRRs, which are comprehensive briefings about every aspect of a space mission. They take place soon before a launch and represent the final approval to go ahead with a mission.
These meetings are important because of the relationship between NASA and its contractors. The agency is using the public-private partnership model that entails giving contractors limited guidance and paying them a fixed price. Since the agency is not doing as much of the nitty-gritty design work, FRRs offer a key opportunity for oversight.
Bezos and company say that SpaceX is risking the safety of astronauts because it will not do enough of these reviews. Musk says that “we always do flight readiness reviews.”