(BIVN) – On Friday, hours after the Maunakea Observatories announced a return to work on Mauna Kea after a four-week suspension of operations, telescope officials released video showing their preparations – and opinions – on returning to the summit.
The observatories made a decision on July 16 to withdraw personnel from the mountain and shut down telescope operations, citing safety concerns in connection to the conflict over the Thirty Meter Telescope planned for Mauna Kea.
“I’m super excited to be doing science again,” said John O’Meara with the W.M. Keck Observatory. “This is the the longest the observatory has gone without doing science and we’re really, really wanting to get back on sky.”
On August 9, the observatories accepted a negotiated agreement – previously on the table – that would grant science crews access to return to what they are calling “limited” operations on the summit.
“I’m really excited that we’ve made enough progress to be doing some science again,” said John O’Meara with the W.M. Keck Observatory. “This is this is not a full return to operations. A full return to operations is going to have complete access to the summit access road, basically whenever we need it, and we need to be able to do so safely. But we’ve have enough to do limited operations now and we’re really looking forward to working with the state to regain access to the road to have full operations.”
“We’re really excited about the support from the governor and the mayor,” said Mary Beth Laychak, with the Canada France Hawaii Telescope outreach team. “The first thing that our operations group is going to need to do is actually get up there and run all of our systems. We have the telescope, we have our dome shutter, we have hydraulics. All of these things haven’t been operational in three weeks. So we need to make sure that they’re up and ready to go.”
“We’re one of the facilities that remotely operates, so as soon as we know that we’ve got cameras that are healthy and a building and a telescope that are ready to go, we should be able to resume our science,” Laychak said.
Keck observing assistant Heather Hershley, whose job is to be on the summit at night, helping with telescope operations, said “it’s been somewhat frustrating not to be able to do the job that I was hired to do,” these past few weeks. “Not physically being up there means that nothing gets done,” she said.
“I love my work on the summit,” Hershley added. “I get to see amazing sunsets. I get to be part of amazing discoveries. Mauna Kea is an amazing place and I’ve loved working on it. I dreamed about working on those telescopes since childhood so this is this has been the best job I’ve ever had.”
TMT opponents have stated that despite the four week suspension of telescope operations, the observatories had the opportunity to travel to the summit before their announcement on Friday.
“We already have been doing that for well over a week,” said Lanakila Mangauil, a leader in the Kū Kiaʻi Mauna movement, concerning the previously negotiated agreement. “So the claims that they have not had access to this mountain is not true.”