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Google wins lease of iconic former blimp hangar from NASA

Google wins lease of iconic former blimp hangar from NASA

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Google is taking over management of NASA's massive, historic Hangar One. On Monday, the agency announced that Planetary Ventures, Google's real estate subdivision, is now in negotiations to lease Hangar One and the surrounding Moffett Federal Airfield. As part of the deal, Google will perform much-needed maintenance on a number of structures around the airfield, including Hangar One, and it will pay to operate the airfield, cutting NASA's costs. The deal "will allow NASA to focus its resources on core missions," says NASA administrator Charles Bolden, "while protecting the federal need to use Moffett Field as a continued, limited-use airfield."

Hangar One, built in the 1930s, has been badly in need of rehabilitation for years. The 8-acre hangar was originally built to house rigid airships, then repurposed as a more general-purpose hangar by the Navy. In 1994 it was turned over to NASA's Ames Research Center, but toxic chemicals were found leeching from the outer skin in 1997, and officials closed it, leaving its future uncertain. A few years ago, crews set to work skinning the facility, and today its skeleton sits vacant in the airfield. As part of its contract, Google has agreed to re-skin Hangar One and rehabilitate it along with Hangars 2 and 3, as well as create an educational and public use facility and maintain Moffett Field itself.

Google, whose Mountain View headquarters sits just a few miles from the Ames Research Center, has previously participated in joint research with Ames. The pair teamed up last year to launch the Quantum Artificial Intelligence Lab, a facility for developing quantum computers that would help business and government alike. More controversially, Google executive-owned company H211 signed contracts to operate and store executives' private jets at Moffett Field, paying an estimated $2 million a year and carrying out some scientific research with the planes. Part of the agreement apparently included a deep discount on fuel, with jets filling up at government prices. That fuel contract, however, expired last year. H211 has also previously offered to pay $33 million for the hangar's renovation, though this contract is with the officially Google-affiliated Planetary Ventures.

NASA, meanwhile, has been trimming its budget by handing over little-used spaces to private companies. Late last year, it began negotiations with SpaceX for a lease on a Kennedy Space Center launchpad. The deal with Google is also in the negotiation phase, so the exact specifics aren't known, but the hangar's future has finally been guaranteed.

Update: A previous version of the article referred to H211 as "Google-owned." It is instead a company owned by Google executives.