NASA announced today that officials signed a lease with Google's Planetary Ventures LLC to manage Moffett Federal Airfield and rehabilitate the landmark Hangar One.
The agreement comes more than three years after Google's top executives offered to restore the massive hangar built in the early 1930s. Planetary Ventures was awarded the lease in February, after offering to restore Hangar One in exchange for a long-term lease of the space in 2011.
The airfield property includes Hangars One, Two and Three, an airfield flight operations building, two runways and a private golf course of about 1,000 acres of land.
NASA officials framed the deal as a way to save money and rid the space agency of surplus property, although the land will remain in federal hands. The lease is estimated to save NASA approximately $6.3 million annually in maintenance and operation costs, and provide $1.16 billion in rent over the initial 60-year lease term, according to NASA spokeswoman Karen Nothon.
"We want to invest taxpayer resources in scientific discovery, technology development and space exploration — not in maintaining infrastructure we no longer need," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in a statement released Monday.
According to the lease signed Monday, Nov. 10, Planetary Ventures plans to invest more than $200 million in improvements to the property and commits to restoring Hangar One, rehabilitating Hangars Two and Three and creating an educational facility where the public can explore the site's legacy and the role of technology in the history of Silicon Valley.
"We look forward to rolling up our sleeves to restore the remarkable landmark Hangar One, which for years has been considered one of the most endangered historic sites in the United States," said David Radcliffe, Google's vice president of real estate and workplace services, in a statement.
Lenny Siegel, a member of the Save Hangar One Committee who is on the board of a group aiming to build an air and space museum in Hangar One, said the lease is great news.
"We finally have assurance that Hangar One will be re-skinned, Moffett Field's facilities will be put to scientific use, and there will be a community-oriented educational center at Moffett Field," he told the Voice via email.
"There will be challenges, however," said Siegel, who was just elected to the Mountain View City Council. "I call upon Google, NASA, and adjacent communities to establish a Community Advisory Commission, similar to the one that worked successfully in 1997, to develop proposals for addressing the transportation and housing challenges associated with the reuse of Moffett Field."
Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, a longtime supporter of efforts to save Hangar One, called the agreement "a major win."
"This significant and long-awaited victory … honors Moffett Field and Hangar One as part of U.S. Naval history, while looking to the future by promoting research into space, aviation and other emerging technologies," Eshoo said in a statement.
The signed deal appears to mark the end of a long battle to preserve the historic 200-foot-tall home of the U.S.S. Macon. In 2003, the Navy had sought to tear down the landmark structure because of toxic lead, asbestos and PCBs in its frame paint and siding. Stripped of its siding, Hangar One now sits as a bare skeletal frame in need of an expensive restoration job expected to cost more than $40 million.
"We are fortunate to have had significant input from surrounding communities on setting a future path for Moffett Field," said Ames director S. Peter Worden. "With the involvement of the citizens of Mountain View and Sunnyvale, we are confident the results will benefit all parties."
Not everyone is enthusiastic about the deal. Consumer Watchdog posted criticism of the lease on its website, saying it wrongly rewards Google executives for what it calls "longstanding abuses" at Ames Research Center.
John M. Simpson, director of Consumer Watchdog's Privacy Project, pointed out that last December a NASA audit found that H211's corporate jet fleet, owned by Google chairman Eric Schmidt and co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, received an unwarranted discount of up to $5.3 million for its jet fuel purchases from the government.
"This is like giving the keys to your car to the guy who has been siphoning gas from your tank," said Simpson. "It is unfairly rewarding unethical and wrongful behavior. These Google guys seem to think they can do whatever they want and get away with it — and, sadly, it looks like that is true."
While no "intentional misconduct" was found, the inspector general's report said that H211 paid only $2 million for jet fuel in 2012 that would have cost $3 million to $3.6 million if purchased at market rate at the San Jose Mineta International airport.
The report attributes the improper discount to a "misunderstanding" by fuel provider DLA-Energy, which operated under the assumption that the planes were being used for NASA research and could purchase it at a reduced rate for government contractors. But according to the report, only 26 percent of the 229 flights between August 2012 to July 2013 were for NASA missions. The other 170 were private flights.
Planetary Ventures won't get the keys to Moffett Federal Airfield just yet. NASA officials said it will assume operation of the site following the finalization of a joint plan with NASA, the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the California Regional Water Quality Control Board.