Hangar One at Moffet Field before the toxic exterior panels were removed

Google leases airbase for space aviation and robotics projects

Google has signed a long-term lease on part of a historic US Navy air base for projects involving aviation, space exploration and robotics.

Planetary Ventures, a subsidiary of the internet giant, will pay $1.16bn (£730m) in rent over 60 years for a 1,000-acre (4km2) site that makes up part of the former Moffett Field Naval Air Station on the San Francisco peninsula, which also includes an airfield flight operations building, two runways and a private golf course.

Google plans to invest more than $200m to refurbish three massive historic hangars and add other improvements, including a museum or educational facility that will showcase the history of Moffett and Silicon Valley, according to a Nasa statement.

"As Nasa expands its presence in space, we are making strides to reduce our footprint here on Earth,” said Nasa administrator Charles Bolden. “We want to invest taxpayer resources in scientific discovery, technology development and space exploration – not in maintaining infrastructure we no longer need.”

The agency said Planetary Ventures will use the hangars for "research, development, assembly and testing in the areas of space exploration, aviation, rover/robotics and other emerging technologies".

The company has recently acquired several smaller firms that are working on satellite technology and robotics, but a Google spokesman declined to discuss specific plans for the property.

Nasa plans to continue operating its Ames Research Centre on the former Navy site, but Google will take over operations at the runways and hangars, which Nasa says will save it $6.3m a year maintenance and operation costs.

Google has also promised to restore the historic structure known as Hangar One, a 345m-long and 94m-wide structure built as a naval airship hangar to house the USS Macon in the 1930s, which is a San Francisco Bay Area landmark.

The discovery in 2003 that toxic chemicals from the lead paint and materials used to coat the hangar were leaking into sediment in wetlands bordering San Francisco Bay prompted the decision to strip the exterior panels, a task completed in 2012 that has left the building’s steel girder structure exposed.

The hangar was listed as one of the 11 most endangered historic places in the US by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 2008.

“We look forward to rolling up our sleeves to restore the remarkable landmark Hangar One, which for years has been considered one of the most endangered historic sites in the United States,” said David Radcliffe, vice president of real estate and workplace services at Google.

Google already has a separate lease for another portion of the former air base, just a few miles from the company's main campus in Mountain View, where it wants to build a second campus.

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