NASA has picked Google subsidiary Planetary Ventures as its "preferred" company to manage iconic Hangar One at Moffett Federal Airfield, despite concerns that arguments over Google's fleet of private jets would sour the deal. The lease, if finalized, will see Hangar One refurbished and put to new use; currently, the site is managed by NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, but rocketing maintenance costs had seen it face potential demolition.
That led to NASA opening things up to the private sector, inviting bids on the lease back in May 2013. The winning company would get a long-term lease agreement as well as responsibility to rejuvenate both Hangar One and the Shenandoah Plaza Historic District, rebuild Moffett Federal Airfield as a competitive public and private flight venue, and even feed the net financial proceeds back into the government.
Hangar One, built in the 1930s, remains one of the world's largest freestanding structures. With a footprint of 8 acres, it was built to facilitate the construction and storage of airships, most notably the USS Macon; it was also used as a set location in the 2009 Star Trek reboot. The sheer height of the structure meant that it could experience its own microclimate inside, with fog sometimes forming in the upper levels.
The structure of Hangar One is constructed of steel girders, but the original galvanized steel shell on top of that has fallen into disrepair and is for the most part now absent. One of Planetary Ventures' key responsibilities will be to reskin it, sealing the capacious interior from the elements; the company will also be required to refurbish Hangars Two and Three, among other duties.
However, Google's involvement in the deal had led to fears that it might be rejected out of hand. Larry Page, Sergey Brin, and Eric Schmidt had made a $33m refurbishment offer, but there were concerns at the trio's plans to use a considerable amount of the internal space to accommodate eight private jets owned by the Google execs.
NASA declined to renew an agreement with Google back in 2013 which gave the aircraft parking room, as well as preferential pricing on jet fuel.
Still to be settled is exactly how much the lease will cost, and how long it will last for. "At NASA we're not only committed to exploring our solar system, but also making sure we're spending tax dollars wisely" NASA administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement.