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Google to lease historic airfield from NASA

The search giant will take over 1,000 acres of Moffett Field, down the street from Google's headquarters, to research robotics, space exploration and aviation.

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Google promised to restore Moffett Field's Hangar One, as part of a deal to lease the land. James Martin/CNET

Google likes to call its most ambitious projects "moon shots." Now, with the company's latest real estate expansion, it's leasing land from an agency that one could say knows a few things on that topic.

NASA on Monday said it is renting the historic Moffett Federal Airfield, a 1,000-acre air base located 4 miles from Google's Mountain View, Calif., headquarters, to Google's Planetary Ventures subsidiary.

"As NASA expands its presence in space, we are making strides to reduce our footprint here on Earth," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement.

Google plans to use the site for space exploration, aviation, robotics and other emerging technologies, according to NASA's announcement. Google agreed to pay $1.16 billion over 60 years for the space and promised to renovate and restore historical zeppelin hangars on the premises.

The move punctuates Google's ever-increasing commitment to projects outside of its main business and money-maker: search and advertising. Its list of ambitious projects is long, some of which are run by its Google X research division. Among them are efforts to create 3D sight technology, contact lenses for diabetes patients and research efforts with the goal of lengthening an average person's life. The company has also worked on robotics, balloons to beam Internet connections across the globe and driverless cars.

Google carries the distinction of being one of the most prolific researchers among Silicon Valley's largest companies. Most of its peers, such as Facebook, have focused on various ways to expand their business models both at home and abroad. Google, meanwhile, has sought some of the wackiest tech ideas to date.

David Radcliffe, VP of Real Estate and Workplace Services, said in a statement that the company will "roll up [its] sleeves" to restore the landmarks on the site. Google declined to comment further.

The deal is also just the latest of Google's land grabs in the Bay Area. The company in October cemented two large real estate deals in Sunnyvale and Redwood City, Calif. The deals made Google's Silicon Valley turf larger than 2 million square feet, according to the Silicon Valley Business Journal. The company has also expanded its presence further north in San Francisco with the lease and purchase of two offices spaces in the city.

Of course, Google isn't alone in its quest for more office space: Apple, Nvidia, Facebook and others have been purchasing land throughout the Bay Area as well.

Moffett Federal Airfield was built in the 1930s as part of the surrounding Moffett Field naval base. The field is also home to the Ames Research Center, and once was a location for NASA's famed "Space Camp" for kids. The deal, first announced in February but cemented on Thursday, will save NASA $6.3 million a year in maintenance and operation costs.