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Congress is eyeing SpaceX explosion investigation

Patrick Smith | Getty Images

Politicians are beginning to spar over the investigation of SpaceX's recent rocket explosion.

A bipartisan group of 24 members of Congress has written a letter praising the role NASA, the FAA and the Air Force are taking in the investigation of a massive fire on a Cape Canaveral launch pad in early September that claimed both a SpaceX rocket and a nearly $300 million satellite.

The letter encourages the agency to reject calls to turn the investigation entirely over to federal hands. Just a week ago, 10 members of congress wrote their own letter to the same three agencies, questioning the leading role SpaceX is playing in the inquiry.

"We feel strongly that the current investigation should be led by NASA and the Air Force to ensure that proper investigative engineering rigor is applied and that the outcomes are sufficient to prevent NASA and military launch mishaps in the future," said the letter dated Sept. 29 and signed first by Rep. Mike Coffman, R-CO.

The more recent letter, dated Tuesday, appears to be a response to this call. "Accidents are unfortunate events, and accident investigations shouldn't be politicized," said the second letter, signed first by Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX).

Some of the lawmakers who signed each letter have interests that align with various private space companies, the Los Angeles Times noted.

Flores' district is home to a SpaceX rocket facility, while Coffman's district houses the headquarters of the United Launch Alliance, a partnership between Boeing and Lockheed Martin that competes with SpaceX for contracts.

News of the investigation took a curious turn last week when the Washington Post reported that SpaceX had been considering sabotage as a possible cause of the mishap. A SpaceX employee requested access to a building owned by ULA, after SpaceX reportedly produced still images of an "odd shadow then a white spot" on the roof. The employee was turned away, and Air Force investigators found nothing on the roof.

On Wednesday, Business Insider reported speaking to an anonymous source at ULA, who said the incident became "pretty much a joke" among ULA employees, and speculated that SpaceX was likely simply trying "just to tie up a loose end." The employee said that the story has become the source of "fascinating" gossip and theorizing among ULA staff.