Mountain View Voice

Opinion - May 18, 2012

NASA owes us more on Moffett

NASA administrator Charles Bolden threw a huge monkey wrench into the stalled negotiations between the space agency and local officials about the future of Hangar One and the viability of the airfield itself last week.

Out of the blue, Bolden announced to Rep. Anna Eshoo and members of the citizens advisory board working to save the historic hangar that he wants NASA to hand over Hangar One and the Moffett runways to the General Services Administration, an uncertain future that could go in many different directions. Although Bolden's move is not even an official NASA position yet, it sent a powerful message that the administration no longer cares about investing in or saving the hangar, or in continuing to oversee Moffett's runways.

Before the GSA gets its hands on the hangar or the runways, the space agency will first have to formally file a "Report of Excess," that will set in motion a chain of events that will first offer the properties to 17 federal agencies that are authorized to hold federal land. If there are no takers, the process continues until an agency is found. If not, there is a remote chance that Moffett could be made available to the cities of Mountain View and Sunnyvale, but we believe that is very unlikely. The entire process could take years and work against any agency making a decision to restore Hangar One with new siding.

As local members of the Restoration Advisory Board (RAB) have worked tirelessly to negotiate a way to recover and save Hangar One, Rep. Anna Eshoo has done her part to save the historic structure, pressing the case with whoever would listen in Washington, D.C. But now, with NASA's intentions made clear in Bolden's recent comments, the local community will have to step up its efforts to convince NASA officials of the error of their ways.

It would be a terrible decision to slice up Moffett Field into separate fiefdoms, with one owner for Hangar One, another for the runways, and NASA for the rest. For starters, we can't imagine any federal agency seeking to gain control of the historic hangar, unless the runways are included. The offer to restore Hangar One by the Google executives could move forward under the right federal ownership. But at this point, there is no indication that another federal agency is even remotely interested in taking on such a problematic property.

The drama over Hangar One began in 1994 when the Navy turned Moffett Field over to NASA. Since then the base has survived some near-death experiences, but suffered a potentially lethal blow when a Navy contractor began removing the toxic siding from Hangar One with no plan to replace it. When the job is complete, the hangar's structural frame will be exposed to the elements, and could be damaged beyond repair. If that happens, it will be a sad and ignoble end to the revered home of the USS Macon, which left the airfield in February 1935 and never returned. It crashed during a rescue mission in the Pacific Ocean.

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