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Google founders offer to restore giant NASA hangar

According to the San Jose Mercury News, the founders have offered 100 percent of the funds required to restore the famous Hangar One at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif. But word is NASA hasn't responded.

Daniel Terdiman Former Senior Writer / News
Daniel Terdiman is a senior writer at CNET News covering Twitter, Net culture, and everything in between.
Daniel Terdiman
3 min read
Hangar One, at what is currently known as the NASA Ames Research Center, in Mountain View, Calif., was originally built in 1932 to house the USS Macon. NASA Ames Research Center

If you've driven through Mountain View, Calif., on Highway 101 recently, you've no doubt seen one of the most famous buildings in Silicon Valley going through some hard times.

The building is Hangar One at the NASA Ames Research Center, a giant structure that once housed America's great zeppelins, but which today is going through a long and expensive decontamination process.

According to the San Jose Mercury News, Hangar One needs about $33 million worth of work done to strip it of PCB-laden paneling. Now a private company controlled by Google's founders--H211--has apparently offered 100 percent of the funding necessary to get that work done.

Frustrated by NASA's "radio silence" response to its offer, the Hangar One Subcommittee of the Moffett Field Restoration Advisory Board made the proposal public at its meeting Thursday night.

"We don't want to spend the next six months working hard to come up with a definitive plan if in fact that dog won't hunt," said Ken Ambrose, a vice president for H211. "Months have gone by and I feel a real sense of urgency with the (hangar's) bones being exposed."

H211 operates eight private jets (one of which is being sold) owned by Google's founders, and it uses Moffett Field as a base for them. However, Google doesn't own the planes and has no relationship with H211 beyond its common leaders.

Anyone familiar with the history of Silicon Valley is no doubt also familiar with that of Hangar One. Originally built by the U.S. Navy in 1932 as the home of the zeppelin USS Macon, it was also meant to be the U.S. lighter-than-air aviation program's West Coast base. In 1994, the Navy handed over Hangar One to NASA.

Hangar One, as it appeared before the renovation project began. NASA Ames Research Center

But the building is aging badly, and is in serious need of repair work.

"As a result of a 2003 inspection revealing PCBs and other contaminants are leaking from its metallic exterior, the facility has been closed for the past five years," reads information about Hangar One on the NASA Ames Web site. "The Navy [has] announced plans to remove all the contaminated siding material from Hangar One, seal the structural frame, and leave the hangar's framework and flooring standing. However, their plans do not address the Hangar's reskinning. At [a Navy] hearing on Aug. 26, 2008, members of the community expressed overwhelming support for full restoration."

Clearly, Google's founders are among those who want to see Hangar One saved. And if the Mercury News report is correct, they're willing to put their money where their mouths are.

To be sure, this is not entirely an altruistic move. Though NASA would continue to own the building under H211's proposal, Google's founders would be given some access to Hangar One, and would not cover the costs of relocating other Ames tenants to the building.

But while it would seem like a no-brainer for NASA to accept the offer, word is that no response has been forthcoming.

"In September, H211 sent its proposal to Ames' management, which then submitted it to NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C.," the Mercury News wrote.

"A decision should have been made by now," the Mercury News quoted Ambrose as saying. "It's quarter to midnight as far as I can see."