Roughly one year after taking control of Moffett Federal Airfield, Google is set to start testing methods of purging toxic contaminants from the massive steel framework of Hangar One. But while the Mountain View tech giant is committing itself to a multi-million-dollar effort to restore the iconic hangar, the company is staying tight-lipped about its future plans for the structure.
On Friday, May 20, representatives from Google's space-research arm Planetary Ventures submitted a final report to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, laying out a two-week schedule for testing out blasting technologies to remove toxic chemicals including lead paint, asbestos and a variety of polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) products.
In a semi-annual meeting of the Moffett Field Restoration Advisory Board earlier this month, Google spokesman Andrew Meade said it would likely be a two-year process to fully remove the hazardous materials from the site. At this stage, the company will be testing out a variety of blasting media, including water, steam and copper slag, he said.
"There's a lot of things we're trying to optimize -- it's a whole lot of steel to abate so we need an efficient system," he said. "The bottom line is it's a better building for everyone to use if we don't have those contaminants."
At the May 12 meeting, Meade noted that the company would be opening Hangar One's massive doorway to investigate its condition -- given its size, it should be visible from miles away. In related news, he said the company was conducting repair and abatement work on the smaller hangars at Moffett Field. About six months ago, the roof of Hangar Three began to sag about two feet, making it impossible to open the door. The company received emergency approval to repair the damage, which is currently underway, he said.
The clean-up efforts are a major piece of Google's 60-year lease deal signed with NASA last year. As part of that arrangement, Google agreed to pay more than $1.16 billion over the length of the lease, including an estimated $40 million to rehabilitate Hangar One.
The reason for Google's strong interest in the site remains a bit of a mystery. In its application at the time, the company indicated it would use Hangars One, Two and Three for "research, testing, assembly and development" of technology related to space, aviation, rovers and robotics.
Starting in 2007, Google's top officials have leased Hanger 211 at the airfield to house their fleet of private jets. The arrangement generated some controversy, especially after a 2011 Consumer Watchdog report alleged that NASA was giving Google favorable treatment over other private companies and nonprofits. Google executives were using the private jets for vacations and business travel, and NASA officials asserted at the time that the planes were part of a scientific program to collect atmospheric data and combat wildfires.
Google officials declined to specify their future plans for Hangar One. In an email to the Voice a spokesperson pledged that the company would continue to work with NASA and the Restoration Advisory Board on its clean-up strategy for the hangar.