Google tells Nasa: we'll save your hangar – if we can park our jets in it

 

Los Angeles

When Larry Page and Sergey Brin needed somewhere to store their eight private jets, their first step was, presumably, to enter the words "large aircraft hangar" into the internet search engine they created.

They needn't have bothered. Whatever direction Google pointed them in, the answer to the wealthy duo's problems turns out to have been, quite literally, staring them in the face.

A few hundred yards from the Googleplex headquarters of their multi-billion-dollar business is Moffett Federal Airfield, a sprawling Nasa facility on the shore of San Francisco Bay. And west of its runway is Hangar One, a vast, historic structure, created from steel girders in the 1930s, which covers more than eight acres and remains one of the world's largest freestanding buildings.

In recent times, the famous landmark – so big that it could contain four-and-a half Wembley pitches, and so tall, at 60m, that fog sometimes forms beneath its roof – has fallen into disrepair. The skin covering its frame is being removed, because it contains PCB, lead and asbestos.

At present, Nasa cannot afford to replace it, leaving the historic building's network of steel girders open to the elements. And that is where Page, Brin, and Google's reigning CEO, Erich Schmidt, come in.

A company called H211, which the entrepreneurs set up to run their private jets, has offered to foot the entire $33 million (£21.15m) bill for revamping Hangar One and replacing its roof. They have one condition: in return, they want to be given two-thirds of the restored building's floor space.

Nasa has been considering that proposal for three months, but has yet to make up its mind about whether to accept it. The glacial nature of decision-making is now the subject of controversy. This week, the Silicon Valley Mercury News reported that Google is on the verge of walking out on the deal. The passage of time could add millions of dollars to the cost of refurbishment.

"A decision should have been made by now," said Ken Ambrose, director of operations for H211. "It's a quarter to midnight, as far as I can see... Months have gone by, and I feel a real sense of urgency with the [hangar's] bones being exposed."

Hangar One is a Naval Historical Monument. When it was built in 1933 to house the US Macon airship, it was the world's largest building without interior supports. After the Macon crashed at sea – killing two crew members, and ending the US Navy's airship programme – it was used to house airplanes and build missiles.

Bob Jacobs, a Nasa spokesman, commented: "It would be premature to discuss the merits of the proposal until we have had time to review the details."

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