We hope not, but local preservationists who were looking to NASA for $32.8 million to preserve the hangar have to be discouraged by developments last week indicating that the space agency may have given up on saving the historic Moffett Field landmark.
As followers of the Hangar One saga know, a contract is underway to strip toxic siding from the 200-foot-tall structure, leaving behind a bare skeleton unless funds can be found to pay for a new skin. Members of the Moffett Field Restoration and Advisory Board (RAB), whose main job these days is trying to drum up support for the hangar, are incensed that first the Navy and now apparently NASA are likely to drop any effort to raise funds to finish the restoration project.
"It's deeply disappointing to see the Republicans cut out the entire funding, but I will not give up fighting for the complete restoration of Hangar One," said Rep. Anna Eshoo, a longtime champion of restoring the hangar. She added that, "It's a national treasure and when re-skinned, it will once again be an essential asset to Silicon Valley and our country."
"There have been many bumps in the road," for Hangar One, she said. "I consider this yet another bump."
But this time the bump looks pretty big to members of RAB, who in a terse letter to the Office of Inspector General (OIG) could barely contain their anger, saying the agency's recommendation to study demolition of the hangar and its transfer to another agency would "turn the Navy's projected $26 million disassembly (siding removal) into financial waste." The RAB letter said demolition alone would cost $11 million, roughly one-third the cost of installing a new skin on the building.
Although it is never easy to understand what is going on in Congress, especially with Republicans in control of the House and its budget initiatives, for this session it looks unlikely that any funding will materialize for Hangar One. The House Appropriations Committee already killed $32.8 million in Hangar One funding that was requested by President Obama after negotiations between the Navy, NASA and the White House gave NASA responsibility for the structure.
But when RAB member Steve Williams pushed NASA about whether the agency wanted local advocates to continue to press for Hangar One funding, Deb Feng, deputy director of NASA Ames, said, "It isn't something that Ames can do by itself. I don't see the priority across the agency. We do have 10 centers. The $32 million is a tough pill to swallow. We don't have an identified, concrete use for Hangar One."
And that is the crux of the matter. Without any identifiable purpose for the hangar, Congress is unlikely to provide more funding to re-skin the building. Until now, it has been enough to simply support saving the historic structure. But in the current budget environment, with the stand-off over the debt ceiling, it is highly unlikely that $32.8 million will be found to restore the huge hangar unless it has a more significant use than "historic landmark."
Perhaps local hangar backers should change course and attempt to breathe life into the hangar with a concrete plan that ultimately could help pay to refurbish the hangar. Without a distinct reason to preserve it, NASA is finding it difficult to spend a good chunk of its own budget on the vacant structure when scientific projects like the Hubble telescope are struggling to survive.