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Günther Hasinger

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From the Director

50 years of astronomy on Maunakea group photo

IfA Associate Director Bob McLaren, Hawai‘i Island Chamber of Commerce President Chuck Erskine, Roland Yamamoto, who directed the fiftieth anniversary video, Director of the Office of Maunakea Management Stephanie Nagata, and Arnold Hiura, who also worked on the video (left), Barry Taniguchi, CEO of KTA Super Stores (ninth from left in back row), and IfA Director Guenther Hasinger (right) flank Howard Ellis and his wife, the children of Gerard Kuiper, and family members of the late Mitsuo Akiyama at the event celebrating 50 years of astronomy on Maunakea.

On August  26, I participated in a very significant event organized by the Hawai‘i Island Chamber of Commerce and held at the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center in Hilo. It celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of astronomy on Maunakea. In the summer of 1964, a road to the summit of Maunakea had been built, and Gerard Kuiper of the Lunar and Planetary Science Laboratory at the University of Arizona and his assistant Alika Herring did the first seeing measurements. After the devastating tsunami of 1960, the use of Maunakea for astronomy had been championed by then Hawai‘i Island Chamber of Commerce Executive Secretary Mitsuo Akiyama and the atmospheric physicist at the Mauna Loa Observatory, Howard Ellis. This was a few years before the Institute for Astronomy was founded in 1967.

Representatives of the families of the three pioneers were present: the Akiyama family, Howard Ellis and his wife, and the daughter and son of Gerard Kuiper. UH President David Lassner made an excellent speech, and Bob McLaren, Don Hall, and I awarded a plaque to each of the pioneers, as well as other gifts.  The original plaque will be mounted on the 2.2-meter telescope after its renovation.

The original goal for Alika Herring—a Native Hawaiian—was, to chart the lunar surface in preparation for the Apollo mission, to find a place where the astronauts could land in a bold step that no one had taken before. In that sense, the establishment of Maunakea as an observatory followed the traditions of the Polynesian voyagers, who were the explorers of their time. Now we are preparing a next big step in this tradition, in that our goals reach out to habitable planets around other stars. Facilities like the 30-meter telescope will chart the way and, maybe, in a few hundred years it will be possible for humans to visit an extrasolar planet.

Best wishes for a happy and healthy 2015.


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