In February I moved back to Mountain View, where I grew up. You probably recognize that name because Google has its headquarters here. This wasn’t the case when I was a kid, so I still think of it as a NASA town.
It’s fun growing up in a NASA town. Every 8-year-old in America wants to be an astronaut, of course, but how many tour their neighborhood wind tunnels, or get their freeze-dried ice cream directly from the source? I never went to Space Camp (far too expensive), but I had the opportunity to be jealous of those in my class that did.
There’s an incredible hangar visible from anywhere in the north half of the city: Hangar One. Every year we’d go there to climb inside the cockpits of planes, and watch the Blue Angels pull tricks. It’s, apparently, one of the largest freestanding structures in the world.
The air shows stopped in the ’90s, and now the building is being stripped to its frame. For some understandable reason, you know, like asbestos.
I now live on the same block as my childhood apartment building. My elementary school is right around the corner. They’ve built walls around the school, to convert it to a private day care for Google employees. It still has one of the best views of Hangar One, though.
It has a Death Star II quality: this massive metal structure, permanently looming in the distance, half in pieces. Except, Hangar One is under deconstruction. Larry Page and Sergey Brin have offered to pay to install new paneling, in exchange for the ability to store their private jets there.
Californian idealism and Leland Stanford get a lot of the credit for Silicon Valley’s rise, but it’s more accurately traced back to the military. Most seem to prefer the version of the story where our weird little industry is thanks to some brave frontier academia. But, having grown up here — between the industrial parks of NASA, the Naval Air Force, Lockheed Martin — I’d say the grosser, meaner history is worth remembering. Plus, NASA is still pretty cool, I think.