Critics not interested in telescope’s abilities
The Pan-STARRS telescope proposed for Mauna Kea runs into opposition
HILO » The Pan-STARRS telescope proposed for the top of Mauna Kea on the Big Island would hunt for killer asteroids that could devastate Earth, supporters say.
But most speakers at a preliminary meeting on the project Thursday in Hilo did not want to talk about the project's task. Instead, many criticized the project's connection to the Air Force, while others said they did not want any telescope on Mauna Kea.
Pan-STARRS stands for Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System. Most big telescopes look at a narrow spot deep in space. "Panoramic" means this instrument is the opposite, looking at a wide area inside the solar system where dim asteroids lurk.
Pan-STARRS, four telescopes linked together, is not very big. Each of its four mirrors would be less than 6 feet across, so all four would fit in less space that one of Keck Observatory's 33-foot mirrors on Mauna Kea.
An existing 88-inch telescope, one with a 7.3-foot mirror, would be removed from the mountain. Its building would be demolished, replaced by a slightly smaller one for Pan-STARRS.
Thursday's meeting, which included officials from the Air Force and University of Hawaii, was to gather comments on what should go into a federal environmental study.
With $50 million coming through the Air Force, many speakers said they suspected a hidden military use.
Air Force Col. Janet Augustine said Pan-STARRS is funded by Congress, and the Air Force did not ask for the money. Air Force employee Paul Kervin said U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye was responsible for appropriating the money.
Military staff looked to see if the Air Force could get any benefit from the telescope, such as hunting for satellites, Kervin said, and the benefit would be "marginal" since facilities already exist to look for satellites. After Pan-STARRS is built, the Air Force would have no hand in it.
Air Force Major Scott Shroer said Pan-STARRS will not do classified work. Some foreign nationals work on the project, which would be impossible if the project were classified, he noted.
Supporters want Air Force involvement because that forces a rigorous federal environmental study instead of a less strict state study, said Hawaiian cultural expert Vicky Holt-Takamine, part of a planning team.
Several speakers criticized doing the environmental study before a court-ordered state Comprehensive Management Plan for Mauna Kea.
But retired businessman Al Beeman asked what would be wrong about doing both at once.
Former observatory employee Kealoha Pisciotta, breaking into tears, answered that she just does not want the project because the University of Hawaii's Institute for Astronomy had been so disrespectful in the past, seven times destroying a stone monument of her family.
Institute head Rolf Kudritzki, noting he was a Green Party official in his native Germany, said he has worked to change such attitudes since arriving in 2000.