But we doubt if there are many laughs coming from the red-faced NASA officials who cooked up the deal to give the billionaires landing rights for their 767 and two Gulfstream V executive jets for two years in return for $2.6 million in fees and the right to place scientific instruments on the planes. All of this was done in secret and made official Aug. 1, NASA officials say. Nothing was made public until last week.
The disclosure set off a flurry of media attention, from the Voice to the New York Times. The latter gave it a front-page story that included a Google map, showing how close the Moffett Field runway is to the company's Mountain View headquarters. Their storyline was that the Google honchos may have set a new standard in corporate perks that is likely to turn other Silicon Valley tycoons green with envy.
Not so fast. We're not sure other Silicon Valley CEOs would welcome the publicity that continues to swirl around this contract, which gives Page and Brin, through their company H211, permission to land at Moffett Field for two years.
Already, Assemblywoman Sally Lieber, a former Mountain View mayor and city council member, has joined Rep. Anna Eshoo in looking into how the arrangement came about. And Sunnyvale officials are upset that additional civilian planes could be flying over their community on the way to Moffett.
The real issue here is how NASA decided to approve basing the private planes at Moffett while turning a cold shoulder to everyone else. No press release was issued when the arrangement was signed, and as far as we know, no other firms were given a chance to match the Google founders' offer. We believe numerous other companies would eagerly pay as much or more for the right to take off and land at Moffett — even if they have to take a few scientific measurements while doing so.
Google's plan to build a new campus at Moffett with up to one million square feet of office space could be one reason why NASA is being so generous with the company. But that is just a theory based on a promise. No contract has been signed, at least as far as we know. Is there more news to come on this deal? And if so, could it be linked to H211's landing rights?
Page, Brin and NASA owe the public a full explanation on how this agreement came about. We know Google likes to keep its business plans secret. But NASA is not a private company, and it should not be making backroom deals.