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NASA sitting on offer to save historic Hangar One

Google founders would bankroll new siding, but so far space agency is mum

Congresswoman Anna Eshoo is among those wondering why NASA headquarters is not responding to a proposal from Google's founders that would not only save the biggest historic landmark in the South Bay, it would save NASA $32.8 million.

While Google's leaders are willing to do what many have wished for years, for two months NASA Headquarters has not responded to the Google founders, or to Congresswoman Eshoo, who has sent NASA administrator Charles Bolden three letters about the proposal since Oct. 26.

"I am extraordinarily disappointed that administrator Bolden has not gotten back to me as a legislative courtesy," Eshoo said, recalling NASA headquarters' promise to work towards saving the hangar a year ago. "This issue is not new to him. It seems to me that the agency should be jumping up and down and embracing the proposal. It takes them completely off the hook."

"I think this is a the equivalent of a great gift falling out of heaven right in our laps." Eshoo said. "There is not any other option on the table today to preserve Hangar One."

The proposal to restore and lease the iconic 200-foot-tall structure was publicly announced at Thursday Dec. 8 by Ken Ambrose, director of H211 LLC, which runs a fleet of private jets out of Moffett Field for Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergei Brin, and chairman Eric Schmidt.

As its toxic siding is stripped off in a U.S. Navy-led environmental cleanup, Ambrose told a subcommittee of the Moffett Field Restoration Advisory Board that Google's leaders would pay 100 percent of the cost to restore the hangar and the shell in return for a long-term lease to use it for the Google leaders' eight planes, including two jumbo jets and several Gulfstream jets, which have been based at Moffett since 2007.

NASA headquarters finally responded to the proposal on Wednesday (Dec. 14) in an email to the Voice.

"It would be premature to discuss the merits of the proposal until we have had time to thoroughly review the details," said spokesman Michael Cabbage. "It has not yet been completely vetted. We understand the interest and historic nature of the facility and have to weigh that against the reality of constrained resources and use. We are giving all options thoughtful consideration as we prepare our funding proposal for the Fiscal Year 2013 budget."

"It appears to be the only thing going to save the hangar," said Lenny Siegel, a longtime leader of the effort to save Hangar One, who in the past has questioned the special NASA agreement with H211. "That said, I still believe the federal government should pay for restoration of the hangar."

But even by Eshoo's account, federal money seems unlikely. The White House Office of Management and Budget has taken the financial onus for Hangar One's restoration off the Navy's hands and put it on Hangar One's current owner, NASA. But President Obama's $32 million budget request to restore the hangar for NASA "was not taken up by Congress and fell by the board," Eshoo said. The proposal was sharply criticized in an Inspector General's report that said "mission critical" NASA projects would be delayed to restore a building with no proposed use.

Ambrose called the current governmental dysfunction that endangers the historic hangar "unfortunate drama."

"I feel a real sense of urgency with the bones exposed," Ambrose said of the stripped frame. Whether the $12 million worth of scaffolding inside of the hangar could be reused to restore the hangar "could be the difference" between it being financially feasible or not, he said.

Eshoo agreed that the restoration needs to begin once the siding is completely removed.

"This cannot be massive symbol rising in the heart of Silicon Valley of the incompetence of the federal government," she said.

Siegel said he has known about the proposal for several months, but decided to ask Ambrose to pitch the proposal to the public because "things have gotten to the point that NASA headquarters has become uncooperative and the community needs to be heard," Siegel said.

Siegel believes the proposal could be seen as a threat to some in Washington who want to see NASA Ames' Moffett airfield, where Hangar One sits, sold or made surplus by the federal government. There may also be some concern from the White House about the appearance of doing a favor for President Obama's supporters at Google.

Ambrose said local NASA officials at Ames Research Center support the proposal, strengthening a partnership that Google has with NASA, which Eshoo also vocally supports. Google's "Planetary Ventures" division is working to organize NASA's archives. "At Ames everyone we've talked to says, 'That's a great concept,'" Ambrose said.

In a unique agreement that allows use of the federal airfield for personal flights, the Google executives' planes have been stored in Hangar 211 at Moffett since 2007 under a $1.3 million-a-year lease agreement that allows use of the aircraft for NASA's scientific work. There have been no noise complaints about the planes, Ambrose said.

While supportive and open to the H211 proposal, at the meeting RAB members expressed concerns about whether Hangar One could still be shared with public uses. Preservationists seemed less concerned that Google's leaders were interested in working with the community for an environmentally sensitive restoration, later saying in a letter to NASA that "restoration will meet historic preservation standards" under the H211 plan.

Ambrose confirmed that Google's leaders aren't interested in painting a large Google sign on the side.

Inside Hangar One, Ambrose said Google's proposed use is "not incompatible" with other uses that could share one of the world's largest freestanding structures. Other potential uses include the Moffett Field History Museum and the major air and space museum that preservationists (who are also RAB members) have proposed under the Air and Space West Foundation.

In its letter to NASA headquarters, the RAB subcommittee writes, "We believe that our neighbors, residents of the South Bay Area from all political perspectives, will not hesitate to support the H211 offer enthusiastically."

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by rem
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 15, 2011 at 11:15 am

rem is a registered user.

CONCERNING NASA'S COMMENT - One word - "BS"

"NASA headquarters finally responded to the proposal on Wednesday (Dec. 14) in an email to the Voice."

"It would be premature to discuss the merits of the proposal until we have had time to thoroughly review the details," said spokesman Michael Cabbage. "It has not yet been completely vetted. We understand the interest and historic nature of the facility and have to weigh that against the reality of constrained resources and use. We are giving all options thoughtful consideration as we prepare our funding proposal for the Fiscal Year 2013 budget."

It time the all the press (TV & Paper)in the Bay area gets to work and save HANGER 1. It is one of only two LARGE hangers in the US. The other big one is at Lakehurst NJ.

I think the "locals" do not care!!!!


Like this comment
Posted by NASA Ames is at risk
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 15, 2011 at 11:56 am

IMO, from what I have heard, NASA is sitting on this because they want to close down NASA Ames and sell Moffett Field, which would be easier if Hangar One is NOT fixed.

I agree it is time for our local media to take up the issue. However, in whose pockets are the media?


Like this comment
Posted by NASA Ames is at risk
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 15, 2011 at 11:59 am

Let me add that according to estimations if NASA sells Moffett Field the money thus earned will fund maybe a coupe of years at best of their new launch rocket program, i.e. peanuts compared to the huge overall cost of this new rocket program with debatable odds of success.


Like this comment
Posted by Carlito waysman
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 15, 2011 at 4:58 pm

This is not free money, or the Google guys acting from the goodness of their heart, they expect something in return which is: turning Hangar 1 and Moffet Field into their private air field.

Better for the Fed to sell the property.


Like this comment
Posted by NASA Ames is at risk
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 15, 2011 at 5:26 pm

The day the Fed sells the property we will most likely have cargo airplanes or some other type of commercial airplanes taking off above Palo Alto every few minutes at all hours day and night.

And you want that??? Id'rather have Google be given the use of the airfield for its much more limited needs.


Like this comment
Posted by Hulkamania
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 15, 2011 at 6:35 pm

"The day the Fed sells the property we will most likely have cargo airplanes or some other type of commercial airplanes taking off above Palo Alto every few minutes at all hours day and night."

How does that work? Their approach and departure paths do not come close to the precious Palo Alto air space.


Like this comment
Posted by anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 15, 2011 at 7:01 pm

Hulkmania:

The jet's holding patterns will very likely be over Palo Alto if they choose to turn it into a freight hub.


Like this comment
Posted by Will
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Dec 15, 2011 at 8:33 pm

$32.8M may be the cost to 'save' Hangar One, but to me the question is what is the value of the 'long term lease' Google wants in exchange to house their corporate toys? Eshoo seems to be oblivious to anything but saving Hangar One; "...great gift falling out of heaven right in our laps..." suggests that any long term consequences of the deal have not been considered.


Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 15, 2011 at 9:56 pm

Anyone living in Palo Alto and even Menlo Park in the 50's, 60's and early 70 (and earlier) and before the fighter jets were deployed from Moffet to Lemore do remember the window rattling, roof shuddering vibrations of the Navy jets. Then there were the larger surveillance and cargo planes before those were sent to Whidby Island, WA in the 90's ending the Navy presence in the Bay Area. It was very noisy around here. Sometime in the 70's there was plane down on the golf course just to the west of the runway. Golfers tried to save the crew by breaking out the cockpit windows with golf clubs. There were stories that FedEx wanted Moffet Field for a Bay Area hub.


Like this comment
Posted by David
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 16, 2011 at 8:21 am

"The Jet's holding pattern will be above Palo Alto". A large aircraft, whether it be passenger or cargo, does not have a landing holding radius of 6 miles. The orientation of the runways would put a large percentage of the arriving aircraft over south San Jose to Sunnyvale, and most of the take offs would put them over the bay towards Newark and Oakland. The benefits of cargo at Moffett would take the load off of SFO, SJC and OAK. Your passenger flights would have a reduced chance of delays with less cargo at these passenger airports.


Like this comment
Posted by NASA Ames is at risk
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 16, 2011 at 6:36 pm

take offs over the Bay towards Newark and Oakland? I have a hard time believing this when most of the time prevailing winds come from the West (the ocean). Most of the time, planes taking off from SFO veer over the hills (South San Francisco, Pacifica, etc.). Similarly, when we had P3s at Moffett Field, they would take off above Palo Alto.

So, please explain how planes taking off from Moffett Field would end up over Newark or Oakland most of the time. It simply is not believable.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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