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Elon Musk, CEO and chief designer of Space Exploration Technologies testifies during Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill, March 5, 2014 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images) Elon Musk, CEO and chief designer of Space Exploration Technologies testifies during Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill, March 5, 2014 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)  

Elon Musk cites Ukraine conflict in Pentagon contract fight

Elon Musk does not let a good crisis go to waste.

On Wednesday, the CEO of the commercial rocket company SpaceX appeared before a Senate subcommittee and used the Russian conflict in an attempt to take a slice of his competitor’s projected $70 billion contract with the Pentagon, Bloomberg reports.

Musk explained that in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Crimea, relying on a rocket made by United Launch Alliance (ULA) — a venture co-owned by Boeing and Lockheed Martin — was not a wise investment because it is powered by a Russian-made RD-180 engine.

“In light of Russia’s de facto annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region and the formal severing of military ties, the Atlas V cannot possibly be described as providing assured access to space for our nation when supply of the main engine depends on President Putin’s permission,” Musk told the committee members.

The Silicon Valley entrepreneur’s rocket company, on the other hand, uses all-American made parts. Musk insisted that the manufacture of his Falcon 9 rocket does not require Vladimir Putin’s approval.

Michael Gass, CEO of ULA, rejected Musk’s remarks and defended his company’s ability to launch a rocket on behalf of the U.S. government.

“We are not at any risk,” Gass testified. He told members that the company had enough rockets stockpiled so that they did not depend on coordination with Russia.

Gass added that ULA also acquired blueprints of the rocket and has the capability to manufacture them without Russia’s help.

Before the hearing, Musk told Bloomberg TV that what’s at stake is the principle of handing over millions to a leader America cannot trust.

Musk told the reporter, “We’re being forced to pay over $70 million per seat to the Russians just to go to the Space Station and they have us over a barrel. Being at Putin’s mercy is not a good place to be so we want to have restored the American ability to transport Astronauts to the Space Station, maybe beyond some day and do so as soon as possible.”

“And it’s going to I think be a better product for a lot less money and it’s just kind of embarrassing that the United States has to thumb rides from the Russians,” he added.

If the Pentagon does decide to form a contract with Musk’s SpaceX, it would not be the first time one of his ventures benefited from a monetary relationship with the government. In 2009, the government loaned $465 million to Musk’s electric car company, Tesla Motors, to help put the company back on its feet — or wheels.

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