Last week, a U.S. Navy contractor began to remove the toxic siding or "skin" of the 200-foot tall hangar in a project that will last into the new year. When complete, it will leave the Hangar's massive and well-preserved skeleton exposed to the elements, at least until money is found to install new siding, a job that could cost up to $32.8 million based on what President Obama put in NASA's budget for next year.
But it is not clear that Congress will approve any Hangar One funding for next year, given the budget-cutting battles being waged between the president and the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. If allowed to go uncovered, it would be a sad end to this noble structure, which serves as a landmark for Moffett Field and is visible for miles in any direction.
Preservationists have long worried about leaving the hangar's skeleton exposed for an extended period. Bill Wissel, of the Moffett Field Historical Society, told the Voice last week:
"Without the protective siding, the skeleton structure will be exposed to the elements and will begin to deteriorate pretty quickly," bringing up the issues of visual blight and safety concerns. He fears that it would not be long before "public opinion shifts and there will be an outcry for complete demolition. That's the 'demolition by neglect' concern that everybody has been voicing for the past few years."
Indeed, anyone concerned about saving Hangar One has seen it 'die by a thousand cuts' in recent years. Most buildings inside the hangar have been destroyed, while the historically significant "cork room," which was used to store the USS Macon's fragile helium cells back in the 1930s, has been only partially preserved.
One recent concession stands out: The Navy announced in March that it was working with NASA to keep the hangar's unique wire-reinforced corrugated windows in place while the siding is removed. The deal is not final, but it is hoped the Navy can work around the windows, which were designed to withstand the explosion of a 1930s airship filled with hydrogen.
In better economic times it would be difficult, but not impossible, for the local Congressional delegation to find funding to preserve this historic hangar. Today, we're not so sure. But we hope that somehow, whether through a major government grant or a generous gift from a local corporation or philanthropist, funds will materialize to prevent this iconic structure from wasting away. It is far too important to meet such an ignoble fate.