Mountain View Voice

Opinion - August 20, 2010

Editorial: Needle moves slightly on Hangar One

Screenwriters could easily build a movie based on the ups and downs of Hangar One at Moffett Field, starting with the untimely crash of the dirigible USS Macon in the 1930s that left the huge structure in limbo.

In the ensuing years, Navy officials struggled to find a productive role for what was designed as a home for dirigibles. But with the phase-out of the huge airships, Hangar One has served as a gigantic (211 feet tall) parking garage for a succession of airplanes and a few blimps that could just as easily be housed in a normal hangar.

Fast forward to today's burning question — whether NASA, which took over Moffett Field from the Navy in 1994, will find the millions of dollars necessary to restore the hangar so that it can serve a useful purpose beyond its role as the largest landmark in the Bay Area. But NASA will need to move quickly, before the Navy follows through on its plan to tear off the hangar's toxic skin beginning early next year and leave the underlying framework open to the elements, a senseless move that could do irreparable harm to the structure.

But as always seems to happen when it appears that Hangar One is finally doomed, a plan has surfaced to rescue the victim in the 11th hour. For the first time since the debate began, NASA has signaled it is truly interested in trying to raise the funds necessary to restore the hangar. Last week the agency issued a "request for information" to firms that could help restore the giant structure. It is designed to get a handle on what contractors believe it would cost to reskin the hangar. With that information, NASA could issue a request for proposals and get a firm bid to install new siding.

With a rough cost estimate ranging between $15 million and $40 million, NASA will need lots of help. Some could come if Congress OKs a $10 million request by Rep. Anna Eshoo for hangar restoration and the Smithsonian Institution agrees to adopt an Air and Space Museum West located in the hangar, a designation that would not include financial backing, but could be very helpful in bringing in local sponsors.

Given the seriousness of NASA's effort, we hope the Navy can back off and give NASA more time to find funding to install new siding on the hangar. Lenny Siegel, the longtime advocate to restore Hangar One, calls the Navy's "damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead" approach misguided and unnecessary. Even if it takes another year, the Navy should try to accommodate a slower schedule to give NASA more breathing room. Another year is nothing considering the historical perspective of Hangar One.

We view NASA's renewed effort, possible congressional funding and the Smithsonian's interest as the most promising news in years for Hangar One restoration. Perhaps this finally will bring a happy ending to this more than 70-year-old drama.

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