back to article Consumer group SLAMS NASA for letting Google rent $1bn 'playground'

A consumer watchdog has slammed NASA for signing a whopping $1bn deal that will see a historic airbase turned into Google's space "playground". Mountain View has inked a deal with the space agency which will see it rent Moffett Federal Airfield for 60 years. The massive site is home to the Ames Research Center, where the …

  1. msknight

    60 year lease

    Given the lifespan of tech companies, why did they agree to this? I presume they negotiated a discount on the rent due to the lifespan of the lease .. but honestly, do we really expect them to be around to pay the rent in 60 years?

    1. Marketing Hack Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: 60 year lease

      This is Google we are talking about. Perhaps the question should be why a company that has such a dominant position would agree to a sixty year relationship with an organization as fly-by-night as the U.S. government :)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: 60 year lease

        You seem to think Google will by definition be around in 60 years because of their size and importance now. Tell that to Nortel.

        1. Dan Paul

          Re: 60 year lease

          Muppet.... When a company dissolves or goes bankrupt, so does all their agreements and leases.

      2. icetrout

        Re: 60 year lease

        wasn't " FBN " for the 1'st 200 years.... only became that way after the Marxist wormed their way in... worm will turn back to the Right shortly... :)

    2. Martin Budden Bronze badge
      Trollface

      Re: 60 year lease

      "Given the lifespan of tech companies..."

      You mean like IBM, for example?

    3. KrisMac

      Re: 60 year lease - What makes you think...

      .. that Google didn't pay the lease in cash from their chump change so that they can use the prepaid expenses as an ongoing tax deduction for the next 60 years?

      http://www.plantemoran.com/perspectives/articles/2012/Pages/irs-revenue-ruling-2012-1-clarifies-the-tax-deduction-of-certain-prepaid-expenses.aspx

    4. jelabarre59 Silver badge

      Re: 60 year lease

      > Given the lifespan of tech companies, why did they agree to this?....

      > do we really expect them to be around to pay the rent in 60 years?

      Well, IBM has been around for over 100 years. Granted, they haven't been useful or even *relevant* for the last 25 or more.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: 60 year lease

      Presumably this is where they will assemble Borg cubes...

  2. Busby

    Since it seems Nasa are being forced to outsource a lot of future missions does this not make sense?

    I can be as anti Google as many people but I don't see the issue here as opposed to the fuel deal which definitely seemed suspect. If Nasa weren't going to use the site and it wasn't being maintained why not let Google spend 200 million upgrading the site and putting it to use?

    Can understand people not wanting a historic site to be in private hands but unless Congress decides to properly fund R&D and future missions for Nasa I would expect more deals like this, I wonder how much they want for Cape Canaveral wouldn't mind having free roam of the Kennedy centre.

    1. FlatSpot
      Trollface

      free roam of the Kennedy centre.

      Watch out for the gators...

    2. ecofeco Silver badge

      Exactly Busby. Well said.

      Upvoted.

      1. Marketing Hack Silver badge
        Boffin

        Well, realistically, Moffet Field has always been a big burden for NASA. It used to be a naval air station and the DoD paid the bills, but once the naval station was closed the costs got pushed to NASA, who wanted to keep the field open because Ames Research Center (which is literally next door) flies aircraft in and out occasionally.

        It's not even an issue of "not funding aerospace research sufficiently", its just that most research facilities can't meet their own budget plus take care of the big airbase next door.

        NASA has been looking for private tenants since the naval air station closed. They were hoping that FedEx would want to put a major air cargo operation there, but the residents of Mountain View put an end to that because of concerns over cargo jet noise. Then Google came on the scene, and wanted to put their corporate air force there, and now they want the land for other purposes.

        And let's not forget that this airfield is smack in the middle of Silicon Valley. The land involved is worth a king's ransom, so NASA is under even more pressure to put it to some use beyond hosting 10-15 planes that NASA Ames has there at any given time.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      re: Busby.

      This. A thousand, if not more, this. If some private firm or citizen is willing and able to go out of pocket on keeping important historical or national infrastructure protected, why the fuck not? Oh, sorry, it fails someone's agenda test.

      1. Indolent Wretch

        Re: re: Busby.

        "Happily, the answer is no, because Mountain View's greatest ruse has not yet come to pass. It wants everyone in the whole world to strap on Glass and happily spend their days chanting "ok Google" and video recording every single moment of their bleak existence."

        Wasn't a very well hidden agenda was it.

    4. Tom 13

      Re: not wanting a historic site to be in private hands

      Lots of historic sites here in the States are in private hands. Mt. Vernon for one, The Smithsonian is another. Often times they are better run than the ones the government maintains.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    $15m per year and a $200m investment for an as-good-as-disused facility they probably couldn't really afford anyway and a practical guarantee that Google will end up buying test+development services from Nasa Ames? Seems like a fairly good deal to me.

    1. ckm5

      Actually, they are paying about $27m/yr to rent the facility. The total value of the deal is $1.6 billion over 60 years + maintenance & upgrades. My guess is that it will cost them around $40m/year plus whatever upgrades they do.

  4. Gavin 8

    Sounds like Tesco taking over the Hoover building on the A40 London

    As my local convenience I'd say they've done a great job of keeping the listed building in tip top condition (nearly...).

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hoover_Building

    1. Vinyl-Junkie
      Facepalm

      Re: Sounds like Tesco taking over the Hoover building on the A40 London

      In the pre-Internet days I once worked with an American contractor who thought the Hoover building was named after J. Edgar...

      If I remember rightly it took a visit to the local library and a copy of the Encylopaedia Britannica to convince him otherwise!

      1. Kunari
        Angel

        Re: Sounds like Tesco taking over the Hoover building on the A40 London

        What can I say, us Yanks can be a dim lot.

        1. Dr_N Silver badge

          Re: Sounds like Tesco taking over the Hoover building on the A40 London

          "What can I say, us Yanks can be a dim lot."

          Like all the Brits, myself included, who thought/think the World Series for baseball is named after a global competition instead of a newspaper called "The New York World"...?

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Sounds like Tesco taking over the Hoover building on the A40 London

            "Like all the Brits, myself included, who thought/think the World Series for baseball is named after a global competition instead of a newspaper called "The New York World"...?"

            Nah - everyone knows hardly any other countries play US sports like American Football and Baseball...

            1. JEDIDIAH
              Linux

              Re: Sounds like Tesco taking over the Hoover building on the A40 London

              ...only the Western hemisphere and Japan.

              Similarly, the Stanley Cup could probably be called a "World Cup" because of all of the top talent that gets poached from all over the world. The NHL has to go on hiatus during the Olympics because everyone is off playing for their national teams.

  5. Ilmarinen
    Facepalm

    "blimps could float in and out, barely touching the sides"

    Hopefully that would be barely *not* touching the sides - scrape - oops :-(

  6. Gene Cash Silver badge

    Who the hell is "Consumer Watchdog" anyway? I've never heard of them before. It sounds like they're just trying to get publicity.

    1. ratfox Silver badge

      Consumer Watchdog has been accused a couple of times of being paid by Microsoft to attack Google on various fronts. They certainly seem not to like Google:

      - Watchdog calls for Google break-up

      - Watchdog backs Google antitrust complaint with (more) data

      - Consumer Watchdog lambasts Los Angeles over Google Apps

      - Google accused of hypocrisy over Glass ban at shareholder shindig

      - Consumers pay up to 67% more for products on Google Shopping

      And now Moffett Airfield.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        For some definition of "couple." It's somewhat telling that a Privacy Watchdog is committed to opposing the use of an airfield to test autonomous automobiles. Having spent over five years living on one, I can vouch that parking private aircraft, which is lawfully allowed and encouraged, and testing vehicles are perfectly sane. These people? Not so much.

      2. Dan Paul

        You forgot...

        Anti-google front for the EUC.

  7. Ugotta B. Kiddingme Silver badge

    what's the big deal?

    Hasn't Google been using much of that facility for almost nothing anyway? Now, at least, NASA is getting paid for it, AND the site will get a much needed sprucing up.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: what's the big deal?

      They have an aircraft hanger big enough to build a hollowed out volcano inside

      Musk has rockets and wants to build a mono-rail from LA.

      Ellison has his own private island

      Has somebody checked if Zuckerberg's parents were killed in front of him by robbers and how he feels about bats?

  8. Crazy Operations Guy Silver badge

    With that kind of money

    Why doesn't Google just buy Moffett Field? Or better yet, why don't they build their own facility out in Nevada/Arizona/New Mexico/Etc. for a fraction of the cost? As a bonus, they would no longer be held back by California's laws so they can test whatever they want.

    1. Daggerchild Silver badge

      Re: With that kind of money

      Google has a habit of 'accidentally' slipping NASA cash in ways Congress can't really complain too much about. In the middle of the jet fuel deal fandango you could find terms for a refurbished jet kitted out with experimental instrumentation, owned and maintained by Google, for actual use by NASA (IIRC).

      Oops, and it looks like this deal rents old unused rope for cash and hands back an expensively refurbished facility at the end of it. Tut. Careless. How do they expect to make a profit doing deals like this?

  9. Herbert Meyer

    Mythbusters ?

    I think the Mythbusters have been using the facility for some of their experiments. I hope Google will continue to rent to them.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Mythbusters ?

      It's very possible that mythbusters have used Moffat, but mostly they use the former Alameda Naval Airstation. That's where you see the long runway and hangar shots.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Google looks set to test driverless cars at Moffett, which would allow it to neatly sidestep Californian rules requiring a human driver to be inside any automated vehicle in case of emergency."

    That would be the case on any private land, so what is neat about it?

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "That would be the case on any private land, so what is neat about it?"

      It already has miles and miles of runways, taxiways and service roads.

  11. Robert Helpmann?? Silver badge
    Childcatcher

    What's so neat about it?

    California law still applies on private land. It does not, however, apply on federal properties.

    1. ckm5

      Re: What's so neat about it?

      That's interesting. Didn't know CA law doesn't apply to Federal land - do you have a source for this? That might explain why Lockheed's application to build a power plant at Moffett was turned down by the state PUC.

      1. Crazy Operations Guy Silver badge

        Re: What's so neat about it?

        State laws do not apply to federal land, however, most federal agencies will play nice with the locals. Especially when it comes to things like power plants, weapons caches, and air strips which can present an unacceptable risk to the lives of the local populace or to property in the area.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: What's so neat about it? @ckm5

        Yeah, it's in the CONSTITUTION. You might try reading it.

        Federal laws and land are not governed by state laws. It's the other way around. The states can complain and they often get what they want but they can't override the Feds.

        That's why all the weed pharmacies in CA are all afraid of the DEA, because pot is still illegal by federal law.

        1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

          Re: What's so neat about it? @ckm5

          That's why all the weed pharmacies in CA are all afraid of the DEA, because pot is still illegal by federal law.

          Downvoted for stating the truth.

          As that german terrorist once said: "You wanted a miracle? I give you EFF BEE EYE!"

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: What's so neat about it? @ckm5 @DAM

            Federal law still considers pot illegal. Local laws does not supersede Federal Laws. The DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) is a FEDERAL entity. If you don't like the laws change them.

            Downvoting me for speaking the truth just means I will find every one of your posts and downvote YOU just for being a dick.

            1. JEDIDIAH
              Linux

              Re: What's so neat about it? @ckm5 @DAM

              > Federal law still considers pot illegal. Local laws does not supersede Federal Laws.

              Depending on the subject, that's a point of dispute. The powers of the federal government are theoretically limited with most rights and authority remaining with the states or the people. It's by no means an "obvious and settled" issue.

              States can and have given the feds the big middle finger. (even without seceding)

              1. SW10

                Federal law and pot

                Whatever the legality of weed at the Federal level, it is interesting to note that the IRS are quite happy to tax State-legal, er, pot-joints.

                Which perhaps sets an interesting precedent...

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: What's so neat about it?

      "California law still applies on private land."

      Even to the extent of playing with driverless cars on your own land? So how does that apply to farm families where the kids often grow up driving across their own land in tractors, quad bikes, pickups etc long before the legal age? Or is there an exception for agricultural land?

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: What's so neat about it?

        It might still make it easier to do tests involving other drivers or visiting journalists and you can claim the testt were under real conditions.

      2. Tom 13

        Re: Or is there an exception for agricultural land?

        Most state laws have an exception for farm equipment. Mostly left over from when:

        1) we were primarily an agrarian culture,

        2) the primary workers on a farm were the family that owned it.

        We're such laws actively reviewed, I'm pretty sure that would change. Although given there's also an exception for 14 year old farm workers in labor law, I might be wrong on that count.

  12. Breen Whitman

    Perhaps it is fair enough that the govt pays the fuel for using Google's Jets for rendition.

    Its courtesy they fill the tank when they hand back the keys.

  13. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Why EXACTLY is a CONSUMER watchdog watching what NASA does?

    Mangy dog. I would immediately cancel my membership and possibly sue for "misuse of funds to pursue goals not in accordance with stated purpose and causing of rage, great psychological harm and irreparable febrility due to increased blood pressure".

    "The lease gives Google unprecedented control of a federal facility to use as its own playground,” said John M. Simpson, director of the body's Privacy Project.

    And this a problem how exactly?

  14. Tom 13

    Granted the $1.6 billions is chump change to Google

    especially over 60 years, but it isn't to NASA. NASA will also save $6.3 million annually in maintenance and operation costs on what is for all practical purposes a defunct facility. Not that I'm happy it is effectively a defunct facility, I'd much rather it were being productive on the space front. But better to give Google a good deal than sell off the land only to have to rebuild it all later at a much higher cost.

    Also worth noting: After a fair and open competition, the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) and NASA so it's not like it was a back-room deal.

    1. Swarthy

      Re: Granted the $1.6 billions is chump change to Google

      So NASA gets $2.6.Mil/year, and saves $6.3Mil/year, a $8.9Mil 'bump' to their $18.4Bil/yr budget. That's a 0.05% increase, which is more than they've gotten from the gov't in some time.

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