One day after Google.org, Google's philanthropic arm, issued a Request for Proposals seeking ideas for some of the $10 million it plans to invest in sustainable transportation solutions, Google's co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page made headlines for the $1.3 million they're paying annually to NASA to park their personal Boeing 767-200 jet next door to Google's corporate headquarters at Moffett Field.
This is about four to five times the going rate at two nearby airfields, San Francisco International Airport and San Jose International Airport, according to the New York Times. Moffett Field is also significantly closer to Google's Mountain View, Calif. office.
Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In an e-mailed statement, NASA said that on Aug. 1 it entered into an agreement with H211, LLC, a California company controlled by Google's founders, to use NASA Ames Moffett Federal Airfield on a non-exclusive basis. As part of the deal, NASA gets to place instruments on aircraft owned by H211 principals to conduct observations of the Earth and its atmosphere for the purpose of scientific research.
A H211 aircraft has already flown a NASA mission. On Aug. 31, one such plane carried scientists from NASA and the SETI Institute to observe the Aurigid meteor shower.
"NASA Ames Earth Science Division has a long history of using aircraft measurements to study atmospheric chemistry, global climate change, environmental effects of aviation and ozone depletion," NASA said. "Aircraft measurements have also been used for various other applications such as wildfires, precision agriculture and invasive species research."
Google has a long history, given its relative youth as a company, of promoting projects related to sustainable energy and climate change. Brin and Page reportedly drive Toyota Priuses, hybrid cars that get high marks for their low impact on the environment. Their personal aircraft, however, isn't quite so green.
"Aviation emissions comprise a potentially significant and growing percentage of human-generated greenhouse gases and other emissions that are thought to contribute to global warming," said a Government Accounting Office report issued in February, 2000. "The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently estimated that global aircraft emissions accounted for approximately 3.5% of the warming generated by human activities."
The Aviation Environment Federation in the U.K. estimates that "flying has the same climate changing effect as each passenger in the plane driving their own (smallish) car the same distance."
Since the Boeing 767-200 typically seats almost 200 passengers, taking the Google jet out and about for merely an hour could be said to contribute hundreds of commute days in the furtherance of climate change.
NASA said that all costs and reimbursements comply with the law and NASA policy and that NASA may enter into similar agreements with other private entities.
One such entity might be Airship Ventures, a Los Gatos, Calif.-based company that aims to revive zeppelins as a means of leisure air travel in the U.S. and as a platform for scientific experiments and advertising.
After the Hindenburg zeppelin went down in flames in 1937, airships became rather less popular. Even so, Airship Ventures is currently negotiating with NASA to use Moffett Field for a zeppelin that it has optioned from German zeppelin maker Zeppelin Luftschifftechnik.