Mountain View Voice

News - May 18, 2012

Concerns about job losses, national security

by Daniel DeBolt

With rescue missions, disaster relief efforts and two major employers depending on the unique aspects of Moffett Federal Airfield, closing it down could be a big mistake. At least that's the opinion of Congresswoman Anna Eshoo and city officials from Mountain View and Sunnyvale in letters recently sent to NASA.

After news broke about NASA's wish to dump the airfield as excess property, a flurry of letters about the importance of Moffett were sent to NASA administrator Charles Bolden, including letters from Lockheed Martin and Space Systems Loral, companies that ship spacecraft from nearby facilities in cargo planes that are allowed to land at Moffett and no where else in the Bay Area, company leaders said. Both companies are "some pretty big players in Silicon Valley" notes Bill Berry, Moffett Field Restoration Advisory Board co-chair.

Eshoo's biggest concern appears to be the Air National Guard, which in 2009 signed a 50-year lease with NASA for the airfield, allowing rescue missions to fly out of Moffett. There have been 900 rescue missions so far, from shipwrecks hundreds of miles off the coast or people stuck in the wilderness on land. The unit was even deployed to Afghanistan, rescuing 345 servicemen and women, Eshoo notes.

Geographically and geologically, Moffett is an ideal location for disaster relief, claims Major Gen. David Baldwin for the 129th Rescue Wing. Moffett is centrally located in the Bay Area and its 2-mile-long runways are built on top of stable bedrock, Eshoo says. In the event of major disasters, earthquakes and wildfires, for example, Moffett is used as a staging area by state and federal emergency management agencies, and FEMA stores supplies at Moffett.

"Alternative sites would pose numerous risks to national security and increased cost to the government," writes Baldwin of Moffett. Eshoo concurs in her own letter to Bolden: "Any significant change to the airfield by NASA would result in serious national security implications."

Eshoo points out that the Rescue Wing is also a partner of NASA's, providing rescue support for manned space flights and airlift for various projects. In the future, the Rescue Wing's planes at Moffett will be fitted with sensors to measure climate change.

"I strongly believe that preserving our regional response capability and programs vital to national security is imperative, even in times of fiscal constraint," Baldwin writes.

Employers say Moffett is vital

Moffett's closure "could result in the loss of high technology manufacturing and engineering jobs in our Palo Alto-based factory," writes John Celli, president of Space Systems Loral, in a letter to Eshoo.

Celli says his company ships satellites out of Moffett up to 12 times a year, and not being able to do so would mean a 160-mile trip to McClellan Air Force base, requiring "cumbersome" and "unsafe" travel down roads at night requiring special permits.

"(It) will hurt our competitiveness, responsiveness and will increase the risk of damage to our satellites," Celli writes.

Similar concerns are expressed by John Maguire, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company. Lockheed has a facility in Sunnyvale on the edge of the airfield where spacecrafts are manufactured and then shipped to launch sites via massive cargo planes at Moffett.

"We have conducted a preliminary analysis considering a variety of facilities in the region, and have concluded that no single or combination of options provides a viable alternative to Moffett Field without adding material risk and cost to these critical programs," Maguire writes.

Email Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

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