The short time I spent as a researcher with the Subaru Telescope in Hawaii was among the most rewarding of my many careers.  I have always held a romantic vision of work as a scientist without really understanding what the actual “work” would be like.  It turned out I wasn’t very good at it, but that has not detracted from the warmth of my memories of that time.  I was privileged to work on 3 instruments that needed to be prepared for “first light” (the first time a telescope captures star light):  The IRCS, CISCO and AO.  All of these used infrared detectors and my job was to work on the optics and cryogenics systems of these instruments.  I didn’t stay long enough to have a routine, as such, but spent most of my time at the base facility in Hilo a few blocks from my home.

The upper left part of the square outlined by the building has a highbay where the instruments wbasefacility1_300[1]ere housed and worked on.  My electronics bench was on the 2nd floor of the wing at the left facing the courtyard and the machine shop I used to make parts was just below me.  I spent the majority of my time between these 3 parts of the building.  Of course the warmest memories I have of working there are of the people.

This was a very Japanese facility.  People passed each other on the stairs on their right, not on the left as they do here.  Teams took months to make a decision that would be made in moments here and people were genuinely pleased to be there with you and for you.  All of this was taking place during the heyday of the 10-meter land based telescopes and the excitement was palpable.  TV crews from NHK were a regular fixture there and the ceremony of having the Princess of Japan open the facility permeated everything we did. Everything was new (and expensive) and we all knew we were being watched carefully in the Japanese spirit of Gambatte.

Of course the facility that all of this was built to support was the telescope on Mauna Kea. The peak of Mauna Kea is about 4,000 meters abHP1[1]ove sea level (about the same as Mount Rainier here in Washington State) and is above almost 60% of the earths atmosphere.  This is why the sky is so clear and useful for telescope observations.

The downside to this is that people get altitude sickness and its hard to think straight if your on the summit for very long).  For this reason, the telescopes on the summit all contribute to a way-station called Hale Puhaku at the 10,000 foot level to acclimate to the altitude (usually over night).  What I remember most about this is that the food in the dining room smelled like airline food used to before they fully pressurized the cabins of aircraft.  We all used to know what “airplane food” meant but that’s an old guy’s term now.

The summit facility was one of the most advanced facilities in the world at the time it was buidome_tele2_300[1]lt and is still one of the most respected facilities among professional astronomers.  The building you see at the left is where the people are because you don’t want any heat reaching the dome.  This would interfere with the infrared observations.

Between these three facilities several great teams worked days and nights to perfect the capability of the telescope for scientists to use from around the world.  As the calendar of observations filled up after first light we played host to some of the most brilliant astronomers in the world and some of the most brilliant minds from Mitaka, Japan where the Institute of Astronomy of the University of Tokyo is based.

Hawaii itself is a state of mind.  A dreamlike state of good and a nightmare of bad but always a little beyond the clarity of definition.  I found an Island paradise of clarity within that dream among the science and the people of the Subaru telescope that has remained with me to this day.