Astronomy in Hawai`i 1964-1970
John T. Jefferies
Professor Emeritus, University of Hawaii
These notes are a heavily edited version of relevant sections of a family history that was drawn mainly from memory. It is in no sense a comprehensive history of even the first phase of the life of the program that became the Institute for Astronomy but was prepared to set down some things that may not be well known and that most would agree were seminal to the birth of a program that has grown to one of major consequence, and in the initiation of an observatory of an importance unsurpassed by any on Earth.
Although my tenure as Director of the Institute lasted until 1983, I have chosen to limit coverage here to the years from 1964 to 1970, plus a few things that began during this period and played out subsequently. To do justice to the explosive growth of astronomy in Hawaii in the 1970s would have extended this text beyond what seemed appropriate and demand a commitment in time, resources, and inclination that I do not possess.
I have found it very difficult to decide what to include even within this limited period – there was such a wealth of material. Inevitably, too, I am unable to give adequate recognition of the fine and selfless contributions made by all those who began and built the Institute in the years I was there. These people know who they were, and I hope that they will be in no doubt as to my profound admiration for what they did and of my deep appreciation for all the support and friendship that they showed to me and to each other. If I could address each of them personally, it would be to say that there is nothing in my professional life that approaches the fulfillment of the years in Hawaii, nor anything that will replace the fellowship generated in our striving to build something of real and permanent value from the very ground up. But still I must specifically recognize the one individual who was perhaps most deeply involved – my wife Charmian. Her fundamental and beneficent influence would, I know, be freely attested by all who were a part of these early days and on behalf of all of us I offer my deepest thanks to her. Finally I would like to thank Gareth Wynn-Williams for the suggestion that I prepare these notes, for his patience and persistence in seeing that it was completed, and for his fine job of editing.
Following statehood in 1959, the desire for change from the old ways of Hawaii was widespread, and John Burns, as the new Governor, was its incarnation and powerful advocate. He believed that a strong University could become a major factor in shaping a new future for the State, and had found a leader after his own heart in Thomas Hamilton, whom he saw appointed to the University presidency. Hamilton had the ablest of lieutenants for the new order in his academic Vice President, Bob Hiatt, a seasoned Hawaii hand whose forceful leadership and vision had underlain much of the planning and progress that had already taken place. A major focus was to be in oceanography and geophysics; this was a natural emphasis and well before Hamilton’s arrival it had been translated, under Hiatt’s aegis, into a successful appeal to the federal government for the creation of the Hawaii Institute of Geophysics (HIG). Important among the small group whose enterprise underlay this success was Walter Steiger, whose particular interest was to build a solar observatory on Haleakala as a component of the new initiative. He was a member of the Physics Department who had arrived in the Islands soon after the Second World War Steiger made an important contribution to the global monitoring of the sun through observations in this largely uncovered longitude, though his personal research interests were in night-sky radiation.
In 1963 Steiger’s vision was realized in the completion of the Solar Observatory in the summit area of Haleakala this facility was named in honor of C.E.K.Mees, the Kodak scientist and early advocate of the importance of Hawaii’s high mountains for astronomy. Attempts to recruit someone to lead a research program to capitalize on the promise of this investment had met with no success – most senior people in the field felt that to go there would be to bury one’s career. A partial solution had been found through the initiative of Dick Hansen, of Boulder’s High Altitude Observatory(HAO). Dick, who had good personal relations with Steiger, had seen in Haleakala a surpassing site for locating the highly sensitive coronal photometer that HAO had recently completed. Working with Steiger, Dick had helped secure funding from the National Science Foundation for an instrumentation platform in the Mees Observatory that would accommodate the HAO instrument – and provide for other specialized instrumentation that the University would want to install when it was able to mount its own program.
Following a trip to Australia in November 1963 I stopped in Hawaii to visit Dick – whom I had known well in Boulder. Through his industry a working solar observatory was beginning to take shape on Haleakala’s high, remote, and barren landscape of old lava flows and volcanic detritus – though it still lacked any local leadership. Dick (who understood my affinity for the Pacific Islands) had been urging me for some time to consider a position at the University of Hawaii and had arranged for Walt Steiger to meet me on arrival and to introduce me to the University administration. Walt took me to see George Woollard (the new HIG Director) and Bob Hiatt, and I could not help being impressed at their dynamic spirit and enthusiasm – which certainly did not match my preconceptions of the University. They made it clear that they would welcome an interest on my part, but I was only there to talk to them about the potential of Haleakala for solar physics – my sole reason for stopping over in Honolulu had been to see Dick Hansen. Despite the decidedly romantic appeal, it made no sense for me to leave Boulder. I was a senior member of the newly formed Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics (JILA) in whose foundation I had played a significant role and to whose objectives I was as firmly committed as I was to working for its success.
But the visit had its impact, and the thought of Hawaii persisted. I had had an innate sympathy for Polynesia tracing uninterruptedly back to my early childhood. Perhaps it was this that worked its magic; perhaps it was an inborn genetic inheritance from ancestors who plunged into the unknown of an early Australia: more immediately it may have been the influence of two visits to Tahiti in 1962 and 1964. Whatever the reason, I softened to the idea and decided to look further into the possibilities in Hawaii and, eventually, to accept an appointment there.
I discussed the possibility with two old friends and suggested they join in this venture. Jack Zirker and Frank Orrall were on the staff at the Sacramento Peak Observatory, and their lives, with those of their families, had been intertwined with ours since the first days of our arrival in the US in 1956. They both agreed to come, at least for a trial period of a year – I had arranged a similar lifeline. I had earlier arranged for Marie McCabe to spend a year at Sacramento Peak on leave from Ron Giovanelli’s program at CSIRO in Sydney (my old workplace), but she was happy enough to switch her nominal one-year visit to Hawaii – where at this writing she remains!
Hearing of our plans, Henry Smith of the solar office in NASA arranged to meet me, during a trip he was making to Boulder, to discuss how NASA could help, and with his support we obtained funding to begin the program.
My family’s reaction to the idea was less than enthusiastic. My wife, Charmian had recently begun work as a computer programmer at the newly formed National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and was not at all thrilled at the thought of once again making a new life in a new land with all the disruption that that would entail. However, she, too, became reconciled to the adventure (it was at least warm in Hawaii), and with our three young children, also reluctant to leave friends behind, and my mother ,who was visiting us from Australia, we set out one August day in 1964 for a new life in the Islands.
The main University programs on Haleakala in mid-1964 consisted of Steiger’s airglow work (with his mentor Frank Roach playing an important role) and a zodiacal-light study run by Jerry Weinberg; there was also the solar-coronal program that Hansen was bringing to fruition for the HAO. There were several other facilities on the mountain, the largest being a three-telescope complex under construction for the defense department (Project AMOS) whose objective was the optical monitoring of spacecraft and missiles. This had been started in the early 1960’s. The astronomer Aden Meinel was closely associated with AMOS and the intention seems to have been that some of its usage would be dedicated to astronomical research. Whether or not this was, so, it was never implemented. The facility was an early site of precision imaging (adaptive optics), a technology of the greatest interest to the astronomical community. But it was all highly classified and our contacts were limited to logistical matters such as who paid what for resurfacing the road.
Our group of four was to be housed, along with Walt Steiger’s program, on the fourth (top) floor of the HIG building on the University’s Manoa Campus – from where we had an uninterrupted view across Waikiki to the Pacific Ocean. Quite a few people had arrived in that heady year of 1964 to join or to initiate programs in the many areas under the HIG roof – vulcanology and other geophysics, oceanography, marine biology, meteorology, as well as solar physics, zodiacal light, and airglow. We were all very impatient to get going.
Formulating plans for new instruments at Mees was our immediate concern, and these were centered on coronagraphic equipment, since we intended to capitalize on the pure skies above Haleakala whose superb qualities had been documented by Steiger  in the mid-1950’s and which, of course, underlay the whole development. For help with this plan, we consulted Dick Dunn of the Sacramento Peak Observatory in New Mexico and Joe Rush of Boulder’s High Altitude Observatory, both of whom were expert in building these demanding instruments. During a week-long visit to Honolulu in September 1964, Dick laid out a conceptual design for a powerful coronagraph-spectrograph combination. This was to be our principal instrument, and we lost no time in contracting its construction to the firm of Boller and Chivens (long since subsumed into the Perkin Elmer Corporation). Fortunately, Joe Rush was able to join our staff for a year or two to oversee this contract. He also helped in the design of several smaller coronal instruments which were later installed in the Observatory. I was hoping that we would be able to build some of these in-house but this was easier said than done since we would have to start from the beginning to create this capability.
Joe Rush also undertook to evaluate the daytime seeing on Haleakala using a Questar telescope to make visual observations of the sun at various sites on the mountain. He was the first, as far as I know, to draw attention to the fact that in this key parameter, too, Haleakala was a site of great promise for solar observations.
It can be no surprise that our greatest challenge was the attraction and retention of a high-quality scientific staff. The national supply of solar physicists was thin, and the demand from established observatories great, while the isolation of Hawaii posed a real problem for many. Two young people who rose to the challenge were Dick Fisher and Dick Dietz, both recent graduates from the University of Colorado via the HAO. Dietz left after a couple of years for a faculty position in Colorado, while Fisher, by then resident on Maui, used the new instrumentation to significant effect when it became available in 1967 – again demonstrating the superb quality of the site for coronal and high-resolution studies of the Sun. Another early hire was Gerry Finn from Australia who, for several years, worked with me on spectral-line formation and radiative transfer.
1. W.R. Steiger and J.W. Little, Pub. Astr. Soc. Pacific, Vol.70, p.556. 1958.
2. Under Joe Rush’s guidance the coronagraph-spectrograph for the spar at Mees Solar Observatory was completed and installed in 1967 and the first observations were begun. In the meantime several filter-based instruments had been constructed for making special-purpose images of the sun.
Mauna Key upper dirt road before Telescopes
Dawn of a brilliant opportunity
Oceanography was the flag that was nailed to the University of Hawaii masthead and while this was natural enough it rather placed our little effort in the shade. The University’s attitude was certainly reasonable – the national mood favored a period of exploration of “inner space” and a focus on the oceans was a key topic. Still, the inherent quality of the high Island peaks for nighttime, as well as daytime, observing was capturing national attention.
Dick Hansen had introduced me to Mauna Kea quite early in the piece, his interest having been sparked by the site survey that Arizona’s Gerard Kuiper was carrying out for NASA, which was considering a large telescope in the Islands to support their program of planetary exploration. As he viewed its nighttime summit from Haleakala (where he had begun his survey), Kuiper came to believe that Mauna Kea could well be an even better site and perhaps the matchless one that he had been seeking. To follow this up, he enlisted the support of the Hilo Chamber of Commerce – and particularly of its Secretary, Mitsuo Akiyama, to establish a presence in the city as a start of his pioneering study. At the same time, he used his ample powers of persuasion to convince Governor Burns to build a path to the summit so as to test its astronomical quality. This road, constructed in 1963, was nothing more than a rudimentary track, very rough and very steep, but one with which we were to become only too familiar! With access thus obtained, Kuiper, in early 1964, set up a small site-testing dome on Puu Poliahu and sent one of his staff to obtain observations of the seeing during a period of about six months in 1963/4.
I had known Kuiper slightly on the mainland and renewed my acquaintance with him in the fall of 1964 when he visited the HIG Director, George Woollard, to discuss a potential role for the University of Hawaii in the proposed NASA-funded telescope. I was invited to attend these talks, though having just arrived at the University I was not well-equipped to participate. Nor, for that matter, was I eager to do so since I had my hands full with the Mees instrumentation, to say nothing of my ongoing research projects both in Hawaii and in Boulder. I suppose I was included in the talks because I knew a few people at NASA (though none in the Planetary Office) and was the closest thing the University had to an astronomer. It was understood that the University of Arizona would build and operate the proposed telescope and that the State of Hawaii would provide the essential infrastructure, in particular a road and electric power supply. There was no evident and well-defined role for the University in all this: we had no astronomers on the faculty, and no plans to hire any. The State would clearly expect some recompense for the heavy expenditures it would incur in supporting the development of Mauna Kea, however, and some role for the University might be a way (though certainly not the only way) to satisfy this expectation if we could define something that made sense.
Being in the midst of these negotiations, we were somewhat puzzled when, in early November of 1964, Hiatt received a letter from Don Menzel, Director of the Harvard College Observatory, asking a number of questions about Mauna Kea as a possible site for a NASA-sponsored telescope. Hiatt wrote to NASA requesting some clarification and suggested that a meeting should be held among the interested parties. As a result a meeting was scheduled for early December 1964. A large contingent from NASA was present, led by Deputy Administrator Homer Newell, while Menzel, Hiatt, Woollard and I completed the group. The meeting had been called at short notice and Kuiper had been unable to reschedule his other commitments. NASA’s Urner Liddell explained that their approach had been based on the (surely reasonable) belief that it was essential to find a university with the managerial capability and professional staff to build and operate such a facility. With that in mind he had earlier discussed the project with people at Harvard, Arizona, and other prominent University observatories, but only Kuiper and Menzel had expressed interest. He fully understood that there could be no decision without Hawaii’s concurrence.
Menzel’s concept was that Harvard would be responsible for building an 84-inch telescope, and while the programmatic demands would dictate that its primary emphasis be for planetary studies it would nevertheless be configured to pursue work in extra-solar system astronomy as well. Menzel thought that the telescope could be built for a total of about $3 million, which was consistent with NASA thinking. At the meeting it became clear that, as we had all along assumed, NASA would only provide the money for the instrument itself and that the rest (buildings, roads, power and other utilities) would have to be found elsewhere. In addition, NASA made it clear that they would look to the University to indicate its preference for a partner for the project and Bob Hiatt in turn asked me to make a corresponding recommendation to him.
As fate would have it, after this meeting I stopped over at Sacramento Peak on my way back to Honolulu to talk to Dick Dunn about the ongoing reduction and analysis of our 1962 New Guinea eclipse data for which I was responsible. I also wanted to consult him about the coronagraphic instrumentation that he was helping us define for Mees as well as details on the upcoming (May 1965) solar eclipse that I was eager to observe. I took the opportunity to talk to Jack Evans (the SPO Director) about the decision I was facing on the NASA telescope and Jack suggested that Dick be brought in on our discussion. Dick, learning about the situation for the first time, asked simply, “Why don’t you do it yourself?”- a response as brilliant in its simplicity as it was outrageous in concept. Given the complete absence in my background of anything even remotely approaching this, I couldn’t see how I could write even a faintly credible proposal. But Dick assured me that it was just a matter of finding a good designer; there would be plenty of time to hire the necessary in-house expertise. He mentioned the name of a telescope designer in whom he had developed great confidence during the design and construction of the large solar tower at Sacramento Peak that now bears Dunn’s name. We called this person, Charles W. Jones, who mentioned that he was currently designing a large (108-inch) telescope for the University of Texas – a project that was also supported by NASA – but he thought the schedule that I had tentatively suggested would work out fine.
The simple remark that Dick had made opened a curtain on a landscape of unbelievable promise. Of course, to persuade the University (to say nothing of the State of Hawaii and NASA) to adopt such a hazardous course would not be easy, but I was exhilarated beyond measure as I flew back to Honolulu to share it all with my wife – whose response was enthusiastic and encouraging.
By the following morning I had cooled off noticeably, however. A successful proposal could have an immediate and negative impact on our solar program (as, unfortunately, proved to be the case), and the whole thing could become a monumental disaster, embarrassing to me but more significantly to the University and NASA itself. Still I had to make a recommendation and eventually decided to introduce Woollard and Hiatt to this idea of proposing on our own. They were understandably skeptical – even aghast – but I persuaded them that we should call NASA to sound them out. We did so and found them surprisingly receptive. This, of course, did not guarantee any particular outcome – it would have been difficult for NASA not to accept a proposal from us – but following this conversation Hiatt accepted the idea and suggested that, if I really wanted to go ahead with it, I should consider preparing a proposal.
I don’t suppose there was ever any question that I would go after this glittering opportunity, but in any case I did set about drafting a proposal in early January 1965 – taking advantage of the generosity and goodwill shown by a lot of people at mainland observatories with both solar and nighttime interests. Especially important was Dick Dunn’s conceptual design for the telescope mounting – a “bent fork” that was incorporated into the proposal and, in the event, was the basis for the final design.
With the input of these friends and colleagues the technical part of the proposal turned out to be relatively straightforward, but the organization of the effort within the University of Hawaii gave me more problems. In particular I wanted the University to commit to the formation of a separate Institute, parallel to the HIG, within which the project would fall and which, more broadly, would be a center for an academic program in astronomy within the University. The administration, however, demurred on this major step.
The proposal, as it finally went in to NASA, thus contained no mention of a new Institute, but it did commit the University to give attention to the “creation of a new administrative unit, to carry out the project and to create an astronomical teaching and research program”. It also promised that we would press the State to set aside enough land to ensure the integrity of the new facility, and accepted a State obligation to construct an adequate infrastructure – though the human stress and conflict that was, in the event, required to realize this could never have been dreamed of in those innocent days. Our draft proposal had envisaged two telescopes, the 84-inch and one smaller (36-inch) instrument to support it, but this latter was eliminated at NASA’s request. The contribution envisaged from the State of Hawaii included support buildings – at Hale Pohaku and at or near sea level – a road, and a power line. The State was also to provide “State government positions for astronomers and specialist engineers.”
For the times this was to be a major facility – there were very few larger. In retrospect it is remarkable how quickly the whole contracting process was brought to completion, how efficiently everyone worked, and with how little fuss. I remain astonished at how much had been decided in such a short time through the vigor, purpose, and excitement of all those involved. A bare nine months after arriving at the University I found myself responsible for building a major telescope – surely it was symptomatic of the times.
By June 1965 all the negotiations with NASA had been completed. The University administration was fully aware of what it was getting into and must have been concerned at the prospect of such a responsibility being in such untried hands. But on July 1, while I was vacationing on a pristine beach on Maui long since covered in condominiums, Hiatt called to tell me that it was all signed – that I had been given $3 million and the responsibility of building a telescope with it – quite probably on Mauna Kea whose high elevation and hostile environment made it a daunting prospect.
This was now no longer a paper exercise; an immediate task was to identify the skills needed to make it a reality – scientific, engineering, and administrative. We would then have to persuade people to take a gamble in joining us in a risky project far away from the national centers of astronomy. Nor did it help that the University was intimately tied to a State bureaucracy whose ways were of the 19th century. Not, on the whole, a promising environment for our new venture. Nevertheless the University and State administrations were enthusiastic – this was exactly the sort of thing the Governor had been working toward and hoping for.
1. A copy of this proposal – dated February 1965 – has survived. It is inconceivably modest by today’s standards, totaling 25 pages including the cover, signature, and budget pages as well as line drawings for the proposed telescope!
The selection of Mauna Kea
Given the local sensitivities, it was politically prudent to include both Haleakala and Mauna Kea as potential sites for the new telescope. Also we had no idea, and nor could anyone tell us, how people could be expected to perform at the high altitude of Mauna Kea. Certainly at that site the project would be a lot more costly since, in contrast to Haleakala, it lacked any electric power supply and such access as existed was extremely primitive. The hostile weather on Mauna Kea – its high winds and heavy snowfalls – further detracted from its appeal and added to the cost both for construction and subsequent operation. Clearly it would have to offer a distinctly superior observational quality to compensate. Given the time constraints, however, we could afford no more than 6 months to make a decision between the two sites.
Many factors, some more or less obvious (like cloud cover), enter into the selection of a site for a major telescope. For us there were two of special importance on which relatively little comparative data was available – the attainable image quality (the ‘seeing’) – and the infrared transparency which is critical in determining how incisively one may study the cooler bodies in the cosmos which include, but are certainly not limited to, solar-system objects.
Two main methods were in use at the time for assessing seeing. The first measured the random motion of the image of a star formed by a small testing telescope. The second looked at the diffraction characteristics of a stellar image which in fine conditions appears (under high enough magnification) as a set of (diffraction) rings centered about a strong bright core. Variations in the overlying atmosphere, which cause the image to move around randomly, blur these rings until they disappear altogether in poor seeing. An index of the seeing quality is obtained by counting how many rings one sees (if one sees any at all) and assessing how steady they are. Using the telescope which Kuiper had erected on Puu Poliahu, his associates Alika Herring and Bill Hartmann had observed such diffraction rings over a period of several months in 1963/4.
Scientists at the Kitt Peak National Observatory had used a telescope pointed at the pole star to measure the size of the image spread in testing the quality of their sites. The problem I had with that procedure (apart from the fact that Polaris was low in the sky in Hawaii, which would confuse the interpretation) was how to differentiate the image motion caused by atmospheric inhomogeneities (which we wanted to measure) from that due to shaking of the test telescope which, of course, had nothing to do with the inherent seeing quality of the site.
An approach that met both of these objections had been developed at Kitt Peak for testing sites in the southern hemisphere. This was to use a pair of separated telescopes on a common mounting to form a pair of images of a single star: the seeing could then be assessed as the differential motion of the two – thus effectively eliminating the telescope shake which would be common to both images. To determine the diffraction-ring stability, our other main seeing-test method, we borrowed two Questar telescopes – relatively small instruments of about 5-inch aperture but with fine optical quality.
For monitoring meteorological conditions such as relative humidity, temperature, wind speed and direction, we were fortunate to have the assistance of Howard Ellis of the Mauna Loa Observatory, who provided instrumentation, while Jim Westphal, of Caltech, provided us with instruments to measure the infrared transmission of the overlying atmosphere via the relative attenuation of sunlight in two spectral bands.
Through the kindness of mainland colleagues, we were able to borrow much of the necessary site-testing equipment – Questar and double-beam telescopes in particular. As for staff, there was little demand in the Hawaii of those days for people with any technical training and the main supply was found among those few who washed up on the beach or were stranded on their way somewhere else. Such a one was Jim Harwood, who eagerly called me after reading an article about the proposed project in the Honolulu paper early in 1965. Once the money was in hand, I put him in charge of the Mauna Kea team, and together we started, in mid-July, learning how to use the equipment by setting it up in a picnic ground just above Hale Pohaku. A contemporary description of the results we obtained over the next six months or so is contained in a report presented to NASA to accompany our recommendation for Mauna Kea. Much of the following is taken directly from that (unpublished) report. 
At each site on Mauna Kea we set up (three-sided) canvas windscreens, 8-10 feet high, as crude shelters. These turned out to be entirely satisfactory for all but extreme conditions, but unfortunately extreme conditions were frequent, and we were soon forced to construct more robust shelters. We tested at four sites on Mauna Kea ranging from 12,000 feet up to Puu Poliahu (13,600 feet), where Arizona’s telescope was located. On Haleakala we tested three sites around the summit ridge. Our first accommodation on Mauna Kea was in the rudimentary stone cabins that give the place its name, Hale Pohaku; soon afterwards, through the vigorous efforts of Bill Seymour of Hilo, we obtained a house trailer from government surplus and installed this in a fenced enclosure of the State Park Service. A second surplus trailer was hauled up the road to 12,000 feet, where it served as a much-needed refuge for the frozen observers as well as a storage unit.
As the Preliminary Report acknowledges, the staff of observers at both sites showed a remarkable level of commitment, and on Mauna Kea under conditions that were extremely rigorous – indeed hazardous to a degree that I shudder now to recall. We were all immensely exhilarated to be sharing in this adventure, and thrilled to be in at the start of what we were all convinced was an epochal time for the history of ground-based astronomy and for the University. While the Haleakala survey was relatively straightforward, I surely underestimated the difficulties of working on Mauna Kea – high, cold, dangerous, uncomfortable, and unutterably lonely as it was. The spirit that infused the group that worked there cannot be too highly praised. Their enthusiasm, initiative, and willingness to make do showed a pioneering spirit that presaged one that would characterize the Institute for years into the future.
After six months of testing, we concluded from our data that there was a distinct advantage to Mauna Kea in each of the primary determinants – seeing quality, freedom from cloud cover, and atmospheric transmission in the infrared. However, its high altitude remained a concern. We had cast a wide net seeking assistance from people within the military and academia who might give us some guidance on human performance at high altitude, but we could find little relevant to our situation. In the end, we decided that the ability of our observers to function at the summit under conditions far more stringent than those that would be asked of the telescope users was evidence enough that the altitude would not be a fatal hindrance – though they would certainly know they were not at sea level! This, of course, assumed that people working at the summit would follow the same precautions as our site-survey staff in eating and drinking moderately – and especially in acclimating for 24 hours at Hale Pohaku before observing at the summit, and this was instituted as standard practice. Those visitors for whom this precaution was not practicable, or who ignored it, could anticipate more or less severe consequences from the altitude – nausea, vomiting, crashing headaches were my own rewards for such visits. There was also the possibility of pulmonary edema – for signs of which potentially fatal condition we had to be constantly vigilant.
So, not without some trepidation, we recommended that the telescope be built on Mauna Kea and, in March 1966, NASA accepted this. I had a most cordial letter from Kuiper (in response to my telegram letting him know that Mauna Kea had been selected) saying that it was a great decision for astronomy and I guess it was, at that.
The 84-inch proposal stated that the University of Hawaii would be responsible for constructing a surfaced road and a power line, as well as supporting buildings. A start on these was, however, delayed while we decided whether to build the road up the western (Kona) side or to follow the existing southern route. A decision between these was too-long delayed by my arguing for the Kona access, and in the meantime Governor Burns (who also favored that route) was persuaded that a cable car should be studied – an option that I resolutely opposed. These issues contributed to delaying the initiation of the infrastructure improvements for several years, and it was not until nearly the end of my tenure there that final approval was given to a power line and road. The mid-level facility – another essential element in the infrastructure – was handled rather more expeditiously and I had the pleasure of participating in the design and subsequent dedication of this fine set of buildings prior to leaving the islands.
1 “Preliminary Report on a Site Survey for an 84” Telescope’ by J. T. Jefferies and J.B. Zirker. Jack had handled the survey while I was away for a few months because of a prior commitment.
2 A decade or so later the whole question of acclimatization was studied extensively by a physician attached to the UKIRT project. His conclusions bore out our early anticipation.
Selecting a specific site
Having decided on Mauna Kea, our task was then to settle on a site on the mountain. Our earlier work had indicated (not surprisingly) that the site quality improved as we moved up the mountain, so the summit area was a natural choice for further study. We set up two stations, one on the cinder cone complex that defines the summit area but somewhat displaced from the true summit (which we wanted to leave undisturbed) and the other on the edge of the lava plateau at a site we called “13 North” – the number indicating the altitude in thousands of feet. These two sites were identically equipped and sampled.
We also had to decide how high above the ground the primary mirror should be located since the seeing certainly would vary with height. Since it was clearly not feasible to hoist the site survey telescopes up and down to measure such a variation, we sought a surrogate measurement. Jim Westphal believed that rapid atmospheric temperature fluctuations (microthermals, as they were called) might serve this purpose and had used sensors to measure this parameter in his site evaluations for the Carnegie telescope in Chile. Jim, with his limitless enthusiasm, became swept up in the Mauna Kea adventure and offered invaluable advice and practical help. He became one of those whose encouragement in the early days of Mauna Kea was so important and so much appreciated by our fledgling band. Jim Harwood supervised the installation of the microthermal sensors at staged heights on slim 60-foot TV masts – erected with the use of a helicopter, a at that altitude that even now chills me to think of!
I have always regretted not publishing the details of our site survey. For some months in 1967/68, I worked with a young assistant, Dennis McKnight, on the results. We drafted two papers – one on the meteorology and one on the astronomical characteristics. Alas, all that survives is an incomplete draft dealing with the meteorology – along with the Preliminary Report referenced above – which of course drew on a much smaller data sample and did not cover the summit site where the telescope was ultimately erected. One delay in completing the study with McKnight arose because our seeing measurements were so very good and needed close checking. I was quite sure that the results, coming as they did from people without any background in site evaluation, would be regarded with great skepticism in the astronomical community. Also I wanted to understand how our double-beam measurements would translate to the seeing that would be experienced at a real telescope at the same site. Even in the first survey we found, for example, that our double-beam results (from a telescope a few feet above the ground and inside a windscreen) gave results consistently around 1/3 of a second of arc. This represented an exceedingly fine site since values three times higher were regarded a good seeing at established observatories!
After some months of comparative testing between the two sites we found the measured seeing indicators at the summit to be slightly superior. This, combined with its greater altitude, led us to choose it for our new telescope
Starting the Mauna Kea project
In the fall of 1965 I went to Princeton to give some lectures on non-LTE. The timing was unfortunate – but I had contracted to give the course well before there was any thought of the new telescope and I just had to do the best I could. I had also planned to use the opportunity to complete writing a long-delayed book: I was spread too thinly and desperately needed help.
I had talked to several friends and colleagues hoping to interest them in joining us, but in truth there was little that I could offer but promise. Two people having the instrumentation expertise that we badly needed had been recommended to me and did rise to the opportunity. Bill Sinton was a planetary astronomer from Lowell Observatory, while Walter Bonsack, from Ohio State, was an experienced observer in stellar spectroscopy and both agreed to join the program and to help define the initial instrumentation.
While I knew something about the science – or in any case had the background to find out – I was totally out of my depth when it came to engineering, and from the outset I had been searching for someone to fill this need. I hardly expected that this would be an alluring position for an established observatory engineer, and random enquiries soon showed this to be so. I desperately needed a mechanical engineer, preferably one with experience in large telescopes, not only to work with Charlie Jones but to create a capability for building the instrumentation that would be needed for our burgeoning program. Those I knew of were already securely employed and had no thought of leaving for Hawaii – of all places!
At about that time I heard from an old friend (Dick Thomas) that Ann Merchant, a new graduate from Berkeley with an interest in stellar spectroscopy, might be interested in coming to Hawaii and that she had recently married (or was about to marry) an engineer, Hans Boesgaard, who had spent some years at Lick Observatory. This pair naturally attracted me very much and I followed up immediately, inviting them to a meeting with Charlie Jones, along with Bill Sinton and Walt Bonsack. It was the first time I had met any of these people; I was to be intimately associated for many years with all of them and all were to outlast me at the University of Hawaii.
It was easier to find someone to head an administrative office – Joe Byrne was a personable individual who quickly established contacts within the University’s central administration. Here he found some soul-mates, and as a result our budget and personnel allocations grew rapidly, far more so than would have been achieved with my more diffident approach. Joe’s somewhat swashbuckling style was well-adapted to the needs of our program in those days, and he contributed a great deal to the early growth of the Institute.
Quite apart from the extreme altitude, many aspects of the 84-inch project were novel. Kuiper’s first measurements had clearly indicated that the site was superb – indeed of unparalleled quality. Our own measurements had underlined this, and we were determined that our installation would detract as little as possible from the inherent qualities of the site.
A natural thing to do in this respect was to make sure that the heat generated within the building did not escape into the atmosphere above the telescope where it would create thermal inhomogeneities and compromise the seeing quality. To limit this, we proposed to cool the observing-level floor (with refrigerated piping) to the temperature anticipated for the coming night (which was fairly predictable). In addition we arranged that the exhaust air from the building would be directed down a tunnel to a remote location where it would spill down the mountain in the night-wind. These were, I believe, new ideas, at least in night-time telescopes, and in practice they seemed to work.
Although we had concluded that working at the Mauna Kea summit was practicable provided people followed simple precautions, we were in no doubt that mental and physical capabilities are diminished at such altitudes. Accordingly, we decided to include an oxygen-enrichment system in appropriate areas of the building: this was to be fed from a tanker-truck filled with liquid oxygen and located on a pad outside the building. As it turned out, we never found it necessary to activate the system, and it has surely long-since been forgotten.
A further innovation lay in our decision to control the telescope with an IBM computer (a model 1620, as I recall). This was certainly a very early instance of what is now universal practice. This proved to be less than a notable success, not because the concept was bad (although the manufacturer could not guarantee the performance of disk drives at 14000 feet) but because the contractor selected was unable to deliver, and we lacked the staff expertise to oversee their work. The control system remained the bane of my existence for years to come.
The telescope and building designs were completed, bids were accepted, and contracts let, and the great day of ground-breaking arrived on the autumnal equinox of 1967. Attired in suits and ties and equipped with gold shovels, representatives of the University, State, and contractor, together with the minister who was to give the Hawaiian blessing, stood on the pristine area to turn the first ground for the new project.
Construction on the telescope building was slow, however, being held up by heavy snows and hostile weather, combined with overconfidence on the contractor’s part. The main mounting and the optics were finished well before the building and had to be stored at the manufacturer’s plant. The project was finally completed in early 1970: with a little better luck with the weather and a little more prudence on the contractor’s part, we could have shaved a year off this time but probably not more. The dedication, in June 1970, was attended by Governor Burns and the new UH President, Harlan Cleveland. Kuiper attended and evidently gave his seal of approval; at least I saw no indication that he was unhappy – quite the contrary in fact.
While it was a great time for us, it was less profitable for the building contractor who had discounted the hardships of the mountain against their experience in Alaska. They lost a good deal of money on the project and ended up (in 1970/71) suing the State on the fragile ground that we in the project had withheld information on the severity of Mauna Kea’s weather! The court found the suit to be without merit.
Although originally conceived as an 84-inch telescope, we ended up with an 88-inch diameter instrument, now usually referred to by its metric equivalent – the 2.2-meter telescope.
The Mauna Kea 24-inch telescopes
In 1967 the US Air Force contacted Bill Sinton with the request that he submit a proposal to build a 24-inch telescope on Mauna Kea for infrared work. They wanted to map the sky so as to be able to differentiate between man-made and astronomical sources and decided that Mauna Kea would be the best site to do this. The instrument became the first regularly scheduled telescope on Mauna Kea and was in great demand. It is still used by University of Hawaii astronomers.
A little later Lowell Observatory proposed to us that they should also locate a 24-inch telescope on the mountain. This was to be a unit of an International Planetary Patrol which Lowell was conducting under contract with NASA (partly under the stimulus of the Mars probe and the need for some better data on Martian dust storms). There were about six of these telescopes placed around the globe, including one in my native State of Western Australia. Again we were enthusiastic, and having fought off Lowell’s desire to build it on the actual summit we settled on a location near the 88-inch. The Planetary Patrol telescope is no longer on Mauna Kea; it was dismantled in the 1990s to make room for the Gemini North telescope.
Birth and early growth of the Institute for Astronomy
The ink was barely dry on the 84-inch contract when I started to press for our own institute – I well recall writing the first such proposal one balmy, vine-scented night in mid-1965. It didn’t get far – I didn’t really expect that it would – but I persisted over the next year and the University administration gradually accepted that we could not continue indefinitely as a unit of the Geophysics Institute. However there was considerable faculty opposition to any more organized research units which were widely held to be inconsistent with the concept of a university. I met the relevant faculty committee to try to persuade them of the desirability of an Institute for Astronomy, but in those less consensus-driven days the administration’s views counted more and that was where most of my persuasive efforts were directed!
In the middle of 1966 (June 20 to be precise), I submitted a new proposal to Bob Hiatt. It showed three levels of potential growth for astronomy at UH. The proposal was presented to a committee chaired by Wytze Gorter, then Director of Research and a good friend of ours. Although our most optimistic estimate of growth met with incredulity (though in the event it turned out to be more than conservative), the case was evidently regarded as convincing and achievable at the more modest levels, and the desired action as justified. With relatively little resistance, then, the new Institute for Astronomy was approved by the Board of Regents for a July 1, 1967, start, and I was named its first Director.
I cannot recall why we chose that particular name for our new Institute – though I do know that it went through several iterations. Some years later, Harlan Cleveland mildly chided me on its lack of reference to Hawaii (or at least the Pacific) – as was the case for most other research units at the University. I would like to believe that already our sights were set for an international stage. He also wondered why I had chosen the conjunction ‘ for’ rather than the more common ‘of ‘ but that was just a matter of personal preference perhaps derived from JILA’s name.
Long before the Institute was formed, we had overflowed our space in HIG and had been forced to rent space in an office building about a half-mile off-campus. We were to live thus divided for several years. Some time previously, and in association with our proposal to form what became the IfA, I had applied to NSF for a “Facility Grant” – at this time they were still in the business of helping Universities to house their research programs. The proposal requested about $2 million to assist the State with the considerable capital costs of developing astronomy on Mauna Kea and at the Manoa campus. The NSF asked Harlan Smith from Texas and Hyron Spinrad from UC Berkeley to evaluate the proposal; they visited Mauna Kea on a sparkling day. I remember Harlan saying “I don’t envy you your building problems but I certainly envy you your site.” We received a grant for $1 million which we hoped would be viewed as a contribution to a new campus building for our program rather than something to offset the infrastructure costs on Mauna Kea.
A permanent facility for the Institute
A building to house our growing program had been in the University’s plans since the Institute was formed in 1967, but as time passed the available land – where cattle grazed in open fields when I had arrived only a few years earlier – was assigned to others. The site finally allotted to us was in the then-new Mauka Campus and is fondly remembered by a few for the horse, permanently tethered there, that ate the canvas top of a staff member’s convertible which he injudiciously parked in this bucolic patch of paradise. It was a surprisingly large lot and I was delighted to find that we could afford to be expansive in our planning – a highly unusual situation in Honolulu. We were told that all new research institutes were to be housed on this campus extension; however none ever joined us – at least while I was there – and I am not sure that any more were in fact formed. While the building was under construction we were to occupy three new “temporary” generic wooden structures, with three more promised for the following year.
We were all very engaged with the design – we wanted a building of which we could be proud. Our concept was an irregular arrangement of three buildings set around an expansive courtyard – an idea suggested by Charmian – but the architect’s initial response was a monolith of eight stories set directly in the middle of the property and this was roundly rejected by us all. Perhaps sensing that we were going to be difficult clients, the firm assigned a junior partner to the job. This person may or may not have had much sympathy for our ideas but he did take the basic concept and developed it into a fine design. The ground-breaking was led by Wytze Gorter, then Chancellor of UH-Manoa.
And indeed we did acquire a great home for the Institute, giving us all that I had hoped for. From the janitors on up we took great pride in it; I believe everyone felt a personal attachment to the building. To celebrate the completion the scientific staff put on a “house warming” to which we invited local merchants and homeowners in this largely residential district. The opening function was, like the building, a class act. And it was the first of many celebrations we held in the courtyard on velvet Hawaiian nights.
Being far from the center of the UH administration turned out to be more a blessing than a problem – insulating us even more from University politics. We especially liked the fact that we escaped the newly introduced parking fees – though that turned out to be an oversight that was corrected a few years later despite our bitter complaints and special pleading. The University grounds-staff were not overly interested in maintaining lawns and plantings so far from the main campus and our administrative officer, Bob LoForte, somehow managed to get dedicated gardeners. Bob (a former member of the Coast Guard who had fought in Vietnam) was totally committed to the well-being of our new building. As a sort of final seal of completion he and I affixed two bi-centenary stickers to the huge sliding glass doors that provide the main entry – they remain there at this writing nearly 30 years later.
The State had a policy of spending up to one percent of the construction cost on works of art for public buildings. I had always wanted to see a large tiled mosaic across the blank wall that formed one side of the courtyard. The Pleiades star field – said to have been used extensively by the Polynesian navigators – was a prime candidate. This was too prosaic for the responsible University committee, who favored a large bowl with different colored smokes swirling around inside – it was the 1970’s after all! ‘We were fortunate enough to have the eminent sculptor Otto Piene engaged for this task and he suggested an optical sculpture in the form of an arrangement of prisms set into the wall – representing the Pleiades constellation. However, there was not enough money to pay for the large prisms called for in the design, so it never did work optimally – though every now and again a beam of spectral purity would illuminate a wall or the courtyard floor or flash past one’s eyes while walking from place to place. I think all of us who worked there found that it conveyed the sense of elation and of being upward bound, that I had wanted it to evoke. I hope that it continues to be a source of quiet pleasure and joy to those who work there.
Mauna Kea becomes an international site
The British had early on expressed an interest in testing Mauna Kea for an ambitious project known as the Northern Hemisphere Observatory – a program comprising a number of telescopes up to a 4-meter. They tested the mountain for several months but in the end decided to go to the Canaries – though as it turned out the NHO was never built, at least as originally conceived. Several other US institutions also looked at the mountain, but for one reason or another they decided to go elsewhere. The internationalization of Mauna Kea really began with the determination of the French CNRS (National Council for Scientific Research) to place their national telescope there.
In 1970 I spent three months in Paris on sabbatical leave. I had an office at Meudon and saw a good deal of two old friends, Graham Odgers and Roger Cayrel, who were working together (Graham on leave from Canada) on plans for a French telescope that was to be the premier instrument for French astronomy. This project had been underway for several years and the design concept was well advanced. However they had not yet settled on a site. As the years went by the search spread in ever-widening circles, and by 1970 it had reached as far afield as Baja California, where the Mexicans were creating a National Observatory south of Ensenada in wild country. I strongly urged Roger to look at Mauna Kea for the new French telescope, since if they were reaching as far afield as Mexico travel from France must no longer be a major consideration.
In December 1971, now back in Honolulu and starting finally to do some solar physics, I received a long message from France (via our then-new telex machine) that a deputation of three people (Fehrenbach, Wlerick, and Delhaye) wanted to visit Mauna Kea to assess it as a potential site for the French national telescope. I was surprised since I had understood that they had decided on Baja California and were in advanced discussions with the Mexicans about an operating agreement. I had also heard that they were in talks with JILA for a three-way proposal – evidently presuming US support. I responded eagerly, welcoming them, and in due course they all arrived, somewhat bemused to be in this remote paradise – but soon warmed by its charm. I took them up the mountain, showed them what was there, shared our site evaluation data, and indicated our hopes for the future – including the long-delayed infrastructure improvements! They seemed suitably impressed and went on their way to Flagstaff to review the quality of the Planetary Patrol images that had been obtained on Mauna Kea and to ask the Lowell staff about working on the mountain – and, no doubt, with us. They must have been satisfied since a few days later, to my delight (and admiration at their ability to act so quickly), I learned that they had decided on Mauna Kea as the site of the new French telescope – assuming that were to be acceptable to the State and University. The representatives of the French interests wished to return to Honolulu in early January (of 1972), and they asked me to set up meetings with the appropriate people. I was ecstatic as I told UH President Cleveland – who immediately relayed it to Governor Burns who was of course enthusiastic.
However the French did not have enough funding to complete the project and with the site now settled they wanted to try for a cooperative program with the US. They asked me to set up meetings in Washington with NSF and NASA, and Jean Delhaye, Pierre Charvin and I met with each agency but we got nowhere. I was disappointed of course but not really surprised. The office responsible for stellar/galactic astronomy in NASA had a long-standing policy of not supporting ground-based work, while the astronomy section at NSF showed no interest and had little flexibility in any case.
The beginnings of the CFHT
After we had struck out with the US agencies, the French began to look for another partner and shortly found one in the Canadians, whose own plans for a large telescope (the Queen Elizabeth II Telescope) had earlier foundered. A deal between the two countries was struck by early 1973, and shortly after they sent representatives to Honolulu to discuss entering into an agreement with the State and University. Some highly-placed people from CNRS and CNRC (the French and the Canadian national research councils, respectively) assembled in Harlan Cleveland’s office to hammer out a framework for implementing the project. Harlan was selected to preside, and with consummate skill guided the group through discussion of a wide number of possible arrangements. After two days we reached a draft outline for a tripartite agreement to form the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope Corporation. It was a tribute to Cleveland’s astuteness in international negotiations (as well as to the farsightedness of the other principals) that the framework that was developed in those two days should have survived intact into the final version.
My own participation in the negotiations focused on issues of special concern to the Institute – the observing time to be allocated to us, our share of the operating costs, the space to be made available to the Corporation at Hale Pohaku and in the new Institute building in Manoa. I also saw an opportunity for hastening the completion of the road and power line, which were languishing and which, with the land for the telescope, was to be Hawaii’s primary contribution to the joint venture. It was at this meeting that one of the French members pointed out that the new facility should be named the CFH Telescope rather than the CFH Observatory since in his view there was only one Observatory (the Mauna Kea Observatory).
This visit marked the entry of Mauna Kea into the big leagues of astronomy and was a major step in the growth of the Institute for Astronomy. The initiative represented by the CFHT venture was naturally a very big thing within the State and received a lot of publicity. It was, as it remains, a most satisfying event for me personally even though long negotiations were ahead before a final Tri-Partite Agreement was completed and the CFHT Corporation formally began its life with a signature ceremony held at the Haute Provence Observatory.
The NASA Infrared Telescope
The first I heard of a possible NASA infrared telescope was at a meeting at JPL in 1969 which Bill Brunk called to consider its desirability and, given that, how one might define the desirable site qualities, and seek the best place to build it. A primary outcome of that meeting (at which about 30 people were present) was that a site-evaluation scheme was to be designed and used at a number of candidate sites. This was supposed to be done expeditiously but after a year had passed without any progress by the individual who had eagerly volunteered to undertake the survey, Brunk turned it over to Jim Westphal. Jim quickly established a survey covering sites in California (White Mountain), Arizona, Chile, Mexico’s Baja California, and Mauna Kea – perhaps there were one or two others. It was all done circumspectly with the data being reduced at an independent site and close attention given to preventing bias. The result was that Mauna Kea showed the best inherent qualities. However some questions arose about Westphal’s testing approach and it was suggested that the recommendation for Mauna Kea be reconsidered. The issue was finally resolved by a committee chaired by Jesse Greenstein which reviewed the two remaining proposals (from Arizona and Hawaii) and handed down a decision in Hawaii’s favor.
The subsequent contractual agreement between NASA and the University of Hawaii to build the facility provided for a NASA-appointed outside group to oversee the design and generally advise the University of Hawaii. This was fine with me; I recognized our own shortcomings all too well and it was, after all, to be a nationally-available facility. The three people appointed by NASA to advise us were Frank Low, Gerry Neugebauer, and Fred Gillett. Of these Fred was the most actively involved and was, throughout, always a positive influence, invariably acting with the best interests of the science in mind and never hesitating to express his opposition to anything he felt was wrong, while freely suggesting alternatives.
One of the first decisions facing us was the selection of a telescope designer. There were few people experienced in this esoteric field and the large companies that might be possibilities were likely to be beyond the means of this tightly-budgeted project. By far the best for us would be to enlist the Kitt Peak engineering staff. They were experienced, they had no big projects underway, they had credibility with the community, they would be far less expensive, and we had good and close relations with them. So I went to Tucson to ask Leo Goldberg (the Kitt Peak Director) for his agreement to this plan. His engineering and senior scientific staff members were eager to participate but for some reason Leo turned us down – as I recall he pleaded the need for his staff to focus on large new telescopes. I urged him to reconsider but without success. Perhaps I could have been more persistent both directly and through his staff though I have no reason to think that I would have been successful. But Leo’s decision was fateful to the history of this project.
Having concluded that the Kitt Peak avenue was closed we advertised the design opportunity and received two responses. The selection procedure had been formalized in the decade since we had begun the 88-inch; basically it amounted to our naming a Selection Board and solemnly taking a vote. This we duly did – three voted for Charles Jones (the designer of many telescopes including our 88-inch) while I voted for the other bidder since I was concerned that Jones was in bad repute with influential members of the astronomical community and I feared opposition if we selected him – a fear that turned out to be well-founded..
The Advisory Committee had endorsed the concept of a yoke mounting as being stiffer than alternatives, such as a fork, and so allowing the telescope better to follow the extremely faint (sometimes invisible) infrared sources across the sky during the course of an observation. The yoke design came with the disadvantage that a part of the sky (near the north celestial pole) was blocked from view, though in fact there were few if any sources in that area that attracted much attention. A short time after Jones began work, Hans Boesgaard (who was the project engineer) told me that Jones had concluded that a fork mounting would in fact be just as stiff and had recommended that we go that way. I had some trouble seeing this but in the end I agreed to submit the suggestion to NASA. The Advisory Committee members were quite convinced that Jones was wrong in his assessment and I must say that their arguments were cogent. Neither Bill Brunk nor I was going to go against the beliefs of the community representatives without a very solid case, and Bill therefore asked JPL’s engineers to take a look at the question. This they did and Bill and I read their report as agreeing with Jones’ assessment and on that basis Bill said that we could go ahead with the changed mounting concept. Later the JPL engineers said that their report had not in fact constituted an endorsement of Jones’ recommendation but this miscommunication was unfortunate since there is no way that Bill Brunk or I would have agreed to the change without a clear understanding that the objectives of the project could still be met. Whatever the rights or wrongs of that matter, however, it was clearly a mistake to have gone ahead with the changed mounting concept since it put us at cross purposes with much of the infrared community and for little if any gain.
Bill had enlisted JPL’s engineers to oversee Jones’ design work. This did not sit well with Charlie and there was continuing friction between the two groups. Charlie was an old-time engineer, bred out of the 200-inch Palomar era and basically a slide-rule man. The JPL people were naturally of an entirely different and far more sophisticated generation. Meanwhile the Advisory Committee remained unconvinced that we were heading in the right direction. Fred Gillett regularly attended the design review meetings at JPL as the representative of the Advisory Committee, and I think was becoming reconciled to the change. At least as time went on he would tell me that he was ‘feeling a lot better about the telescope’.
And so the design progressed, with the JPL engineers complaining with some justice about Jones’ resistance to their requests and suggestions. However, because of the lingering concern in the community the NASA Space Science office decided to hold a meeting in Washington to review the status of the project. Present were the Advisory Committee members, UH representatives (Mel Dyck, Dale Cruikshank, the Project Manager, and me), and a large contingent from NASA. The meeting was decidedly confrontational; the main results were the appointment of a committee to review the major items of contention – the type of mounting, the performance of the designer and the continuation of our project manager over whom there was a lot of unhappiness.
The outcome of the meeting was the appointment of a committee to review the status and future of the program; our representatives were Hans Boesgaard and Mel Dyck. Hans came under strong pressure to deny the project while Mel resigned in protest to the whole affair. I guess that the committee made a report but the whole review process was conducted without any input invited from me. While this review was going on I was urged by an impeccable source in NASA Headquarters to go to Washington so that I could combat misrepresentations of our actions that were coming from a person who had been close to the project and who ‘was stabbing me in the back in the interest of advancing his own career’. But the atmosphere was so poisoned that Bill Brunk advised me against this and I did not go.
The deputy to the head of the Space Science Office at NASA (Tony Calio) had been given responsibility for the enquiry. He became upset with Bill and me over what he heard and indeed threatened draconian actions for what he had been persuaded, quite unjustly, was Bill’s lack of oversight. Finally I was summoned to NASA and informed of their decision to allow the project to proceed only if some basic changes were made – mainly that we transfer the design responsibility from Jones to JPL and select a new project manager acceptable to NASA. In fact I was happy to have a good project manager and JPL were well set up to design the telescope. Above all, the telescope was alive which outcome had been far from certain. I had been determined to see it built on Mauna Kea since it represented a vital component of the growth of astronomy on the mountain and was a central factor in the Institute’s future – to say nothing of its enormous importance to the national effort in infrared astronomy. For all these reasons I felt a responsibility to do all I could to see it through and if this meant some discomfort for me that was a price I was fully prepared to pay. I was offered a choice of two people from JPL for Project Manager – by this time it was late in the year 1976 – and I chose Gerry Smith who did a superb job.
There was, however, one more sting in the Project’s tail: soon after Gerry’s arrival the primary mirror cracked while in the Kitt Peak shop being figured. This disaster predictably set off a mad scramble to assign blame. Fortunately this could not be put on me since the mirror had been assigned to us by NASA. However those who opposed the project raised the question as to whether the whole thing should now just be scrapped. This was taken up at a meeting in Tucson convened by NASA. I was told that the mood was strongly for discontinuing the project but fortunately for American astronomy Leo Goldberg argued against this and it was decided to continue.
And continue we did – with Gerry leading a revitalized team working together we made excellent progress. I had in the meantime been able to hire Rich Capps who gave a restored credibility to the project as well as much-needed instrumentation expertise and with a successful conclusion nearing I was fortunate enough also to hire Eric Becklin as the first Director of the new facility. Eric’s arrival not only solidified the credibility of the project but gave powerful momentum to the infrared science program at the Institute – always a central goal for me. Through the high dedication of the group we were able to complete the facility in time to get 5 micron images of Jupiter and so to meet a basic goal on which the project had initially been justified –a goal that had seemed hopelessly remote in the Spring of 1977 when the new team was formed. Early results bearing out the promise of the IRTF on Mauna Kea included studies of the volcanoes on Io and infrared detection of lensing galaxies in a double QSO.
There is an entertaining postscript. Several years later, in the early 1980’s and well after the telescope had been commissioned, Tony Calio (by then no longer in NASA) visited Mauna Kea and made a point of coming to see me at the Institute afterward. He told me that he had been ‘blown away’ with what he saw on Mauna Kea, that he had never realized what an immense achievement it had been. He essentially apologized for the trouble he’d given me – I remember his actual words were ‘you must have felt like taking a tire iron to my head’
This account, I should repeat, simply highlights a few of the earliest ventures that seemed to me to be significant in framing the Institute and the growth of Mauna Kea. From the conception of the CFHT in 1973 at meetings in Honolulu, the growth of astronomy in Hawaii and at the University was explosive as, indeed, it continued and promises to remain. To do justice to its development during my years there (from 1964 to 1983) would require an effort and resources far beyond those I am able to command. Much of the necessary material for such a study is to be found in the archives of the Institute for Astronomy which Dale Cruikshank started and diligently stocked, and any interested historian is directed to that source.
While I have not, then, written anything even remotely approaching a comprehensive account of what went on during my years in Hawaii, or even during the limited period considered here, I have prepared an expanded version for inclusion in the Institute’s archives.
I was born in a small country town in Western Australia, where my father was a bank officer. As a child I lived in several towns around the State attending government schools until leaving for boarding school in the late 1930s. At 15 I started working in a bank in Perth. I soon recognized this was not what I wanted to do with my life, and under the trying wartime circumstances of 1941 and 1942 I completed the University matriculation requirements by attending night-school.
After earning a bachelor degree in Physics, I was awarded a scholarship which allowed me to attend Cambridge University, where I read the Physics Tripos. From 1949 to 1956, I worked, mostly on solar physics, under Ron Giovanelli at the CSIRO Division of Physics. From 1956 to 1959 I was on leave in the US, where I worked successively at Harvard, Sacramento Peak, and in Boulder at the High Altitude Observatory. After returning for a year to Sydney, I accepted a position at the (then) National Bureau of Standards in Boulder and subsequently as a Fellow of the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics when it was founded in 1962.
I left Boulder for Hawaii in 1964, remaining there until 1983 when I was offered the position of founding director of the National Optical Astronomy Observatories. That post I resigned in 1987 to return to research in solar physics – working on spectral-line formation in magnetized gases, the analysis of solar infrared data, and participating in the development of a theory of radiative transfer in stochastic media.
I finally retired from science in 1997, and since then have worked on a daily basis painting in oils, watercolor, and pastels. I have had several one- and two-person shows and continue to exhibit my work in local venues. I have been married since 1949 to Charmian (nee Candy) – we have three children and six grandchildren.