Your Stories

      10 Comments on Your Stories

Add your memories about the IfA in the comments below.

Ann Boesgaard et al in the Cushman

Nancy Lyttle has written down some of her memories: click here. For a preview, check out the picture below…

10 thoughts on “Your Stories

  1. Roland Meier

    Many thanks for inviting me to your celebration activities. I would have loved to join the celebrations (and meet with former collegues), but I will most likely not be able to make it.

  2. Ann Merchant Boesgaard

    Ann Boesgaard remembers
    In January 1971 Alan Stockton and I were sharing half-nights on the 88-inch telescope. (I had first halves; he had the extragalactic halves.) The weather looked fantastic that afternoon with deep blue skies. There was a problem though. There was ice on the dome which meant it couldn’t be opened. So Alan and I drove to the summit in a big-tire, 2-person, open-air Cushman vehicle. Our goal was yo chip the ice off the dome. That required getting to the top of the dome. We went out on the catwalk and climbed the stairs by the code room. With safety harnesses attached we climbed up the ladder over the curvature of the dome. Alan seemed nonchalant, but I was totally spooked. All directions were down! The ice was intransigent so were climbed back down. Thereafter, Alan drove back like a crazy man over hill and dale – a little scary, but not like the top of the dome…

  3. Alan Stockton

    Yes, I remember that day. It was actually a Cushman Trackster having rubber track treads instead of wheels and a T-control for steering, going, and stopping. If I was driving like a crazy man, it was probably because I couldn’t control it very well. And I had chipped ice off of the dome so I could observe a few times before, so I was used to being up there. Somewhat later, there was a dome slit heater installed to deal with the ice. But I am sure that astronomers would not be allowed to do that sort of thing today, regardless.

  4. Sidney Wolff

    I have never kept a diary, so I can’t remember the years that things happened or even sometimes the people involved, but I do have many treasured memories of my time on Mauna Kea.
    There are the milestone events:
    • Taking a spectrum with a large telescope for the first time. The spectrum was of Vega—not exciting scientifically but one of the first—possibly the first—science observation with the 88-inch.
    • First light at the IRTF. Actually, first light had been achieved by the engineering staff the night before, but several of us flew over from Honolulu the next day to make it official. I remember celebrating at the summit with champagne. I also remember hearing a UKIRT staff member, who had been struggling for months trying to achieve the same milestone, saying, “Those Yanks have done it again!” But we have to remember that the IRTF was built like a tank, and UKIRT was one of the first modern, light-weight telescopes that required active controls to perform well.
    • Seeing for the first time the domes of IRTF, UKIRT, and CFHT all open for observing.
    • The phone call from Bob Kraft, a co-author on my first scientific paper and an old friend, calling me to say, “Sidney, we have decided where to put the 10-m telescope. Can you guess?” And I said, ‘If I can’t, you have the wrong answer!” For several years, I had had a 35-mm slide showing the cinder cone where the Keck telescopes now stand, and I had labeled it “future site of the world’s largest telescope.”

    More even than significant milestones, I remember the many adventures we had on Mauna Kea.
    • Setting off Roman candles with my husband Richard on the summit on New Year’s eve with the snow gently falling. Actually Roman candles don’t work too well at that altitude.
    • With Walter Bonsack hauling a Zeeman analyzer up the summit cinder cone on a sled when the road was blocked by snow. I vowed never to walk up the mountain again.
    • A magical morning when we hiked down the first mile or two from the summit over trackless snow with a clear blue sky and the sun rising. The road was only partially cleared of snow, and the surface was angled steeply into the side of the summit cone. The snow cat in which we were riding had slid hard across the snow into the edge of the summit cone, and the tread was torn off of its track, thus requiring us to hike down,
    • The night one of the generators threw a rod, we couldn’t start the backup generator, it began to snow, and the night assistant and I sat and watched snow falling gently on the telescope while we waited for help from Hilo.
    • Sitting at the slit of the coude feed during an earthquake and seeing the star execute a lissajou curve in the eyepiece.
    • Going up to prepare the coude spectrograph after another earthquake and discovering the while all of the components of the spectrograph remained perfectly aligned, the whole steel frame of the spectrograph had been knocked off of its northern mounting point and was about an inch too low,.
    • With Richard, coasting a car that could not be started to Hilo around 3 AM. The trick was to get the car going so fast that it was possible to make it through a hilly section near Hilo. This had to be done at night so that the headlights of any oncoming traffic would provide a warning.
    • On one of the very first nights that I observed on Mauna Kea, seeing the Southern Cross rising over Mauna Loa with the red glow of an eruption at Halemaumau against the sky—quintessentially Hawaii.
    • Sitting at the slit of the coude feed guiding the telescope while an exposure was in progress, when a graduate student on his first trip to the mountain came in from the cat walk and announced that Mauna Loa was erupting. Hilo radio didn’t announce the eruption for another half hour, so we had this magnificent sight to ourselves for a brief time.
    And so many more……

  5. Bill Golisch

    Here is a OneDrive link to about a hundred photos of IfA-IRTF personnel through the years:!Ak8_6ZoJVN7YoiqKhrTwSVX1W7Rp
    I have gone through the IRTF “rogues” gallery and selected photos showing IfA staff at work and play and added several from elsewhere.
    I hope someone can add similar IfA pics from Maui and Manoa.
    They might make a good slide show to have running between events at the Symposium.

  6. Alan Stockton

    From 1972 through 1979, my family and I lived in Pupukea, on the North Shore, just above Waimea Bay. I would drive in to work every day–they had just opened the H-2 freeway, so it was not the impossible drive that it would be today. It usually took a bit over an hour, a reasonable commute by California standards. One day, probably around 1975 or 1976, I came in to the office as usual, but with a suitcase, because I had to leave for Paris later that day for a meeting of the CFHT Scientific Advisory Committee. However, I had, without thinking, come in with my usual zoris, and I didn’t have any other shoes with me. It would have taken too long to go home and come back. In an off-hand way, I mentioned my dilemma to Ginger Plasch. I should have known better: she contacted a newspaper reporter she know, and my story appeared as a small filler in the newspaper, under the heading, “Absent-Minded Professor.”
    I eventually went down to Sears and bought the cheapest shoes for the trip that I could find.

  7. ~Ginger Plasch

    Oops, sorry Alan!
    Envision the juxtaposition: the dignified JTJefferies having made every effort over those early years to convince the community that Hawaii is not a scientific outpost but but rather the future of ground-based astronomy. And what happens? Some young Hawaii scientist shows up at a formal Paris meeting in “slippahs.” It still makes me giggle.
    The reporter (Helen Altonn) must have called me about something else, so I shared it b/c we had rapport and she liked our program. Never dreamed she’d put it in the paper!

    1. ~Ginger Plasch

      But then again, back then it was the little things that made us (astronomy) human. So you ended up giving us a dash of positive PR.

  8. Alan Tokunaga

    Ann Boesgaard found an old photo album from 1979 in the vault where a lot of historical items are stored. I digitized them and you can view them here:

    What a remarkable group of people! There are still two of them working full time at the IfA .

    The IRTF staff took many photos in the days before digital photography. These were put up on the fridge in the IR lab for a while, then put up on a bulletin board outside of the lab where they remain today. Here is a sample of the photos:

    For many years Nancy Lyttle got everyone fired up for Halloween. Here are some Halloween photos from Gale Yamada.

    And finally here are a few photos from Phil Puxley, now in a high position within the NSF:

  9. Alan Tokunaga

    Here is a message from Charlie Lindsey, who was a submm pioneer in solar astronomy. Imagine observing the sun directly with black poly covering the aperture of the IRTF with a one of a kind bolometer radiometer and being capable of doing theoretical physics at the highest level. That’s the kind of thing Charlie did. His message is fairly long, so here is a link to it:


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