The Scope of Things to Come

  • Bruce Dorminey


By the time I hit the futuristic control room of Mauna Kea’s Gemini North Observatory, my head was spinning, but not because of any rapid-fire revelations I was having about the wonders of the Universe. It had to be the altitude. The place, a dormant volcano-cum-astronomical science reserve atop Mauna Kea on the big island of Hawaii, was abuzz with the mid-afternoon activity of a busy construction crew banging about in heavy boots and hard hats. I took a sip from my water bottle and tried to stay alert, but that wasn’t easy at more than 4,200 meters (almost 14,000 feet). I had just begun to catch my breath when a burly man with a penetrating gaze thrust a clipboard holding a 12-page document into my hand. Dave Logan, the Gemini North Observatory’s company clerk, didn’t want me to read this bureaucratic treatise word for word. He only wanted me to initial it as fast I could, so that he could get back to juggling phone calls coming into the ground-floor office of this sleek new telescope. “I got six calls at once, which is pretty hard to do with only four lines,” says Logan, passing me a pen. “These are not complimentary pens, by the way” Then he launched into his cautionary spiel, which he deadpanned in a rapid-fire staccato. (It was hard to know whether to laugh or get up and run down the mountain as fast as I was able.) “First page,” Logan began, “You may suffer headaches, tiredness, irritability, inability to talk, anorexia, insomnia, reduced intellectual capacity, and vomiting. We also have a small percentage [of people] who black out cold and fall flat on their face. It’s also possible to develop one of the more severe mountain sicknesses, such as pulmonary or cerebral edema, both of which can be fatal, which means as soon as you get here, the brain explodes and your lungs explode. But since you are not exploding, you don’t have that. But if you die while you are here, it’s your fault because we already warned you. If here longer than two hours, people tend to forget things like their address and their mother’s maiden name because of lack of oxygen. This affects your judgment. One hour of unprotected sunlight at this altitude can take away your night vision for two days. So we all wear shades as soon as we step out. But we haven’t seen the Sun since yesterday afternoon. And since we are still under construction, you will encounter hazardous situations. We do have our own ambulance on site, but it’s an hour and a half drive down to Hilo medical center.”


European Southern Observatory Doppler Spectroscopy Space Telescope Science Institute South African Astronomical Observatory Southern African Large Telescope 


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  1. 1.
    Logan, David, on-site construction manager, Gemini North Observatory Interviewed on August 7, 1999, at Mauna Kea, Hawaii.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Mountain, Matt, Director Gemini Observatory. Interviewed on May 25, 2000.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Michaud, Peter, Gemini Outreach Director, Gemini North Observatory, Hilo, Hawaii. Interviewed on August 7, 1999, at Mauna Kea, Hawaii.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Spyromilio, Jason, astronomer and head of VLT commissioning. Interviewed on July 19, 2000, at Cerro Paranal, Chile.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Marcy, Geoffrey, astronomer, University of California at Berkeley Interviewed on May 25, 1999, at Dana Point, California, and on August 6, 1999, at Hapuna Beach, Hawaii. Follow-ups took place on September 8, 2000, May 10–12, 2001, and June 3, 2001.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Stockman, Peter, NGST Division Head, Space Telescope Science Institute. Private communication with the author on May 24, 2000.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Dierickx, Philippe, ESO optical engineer, working engineering group for OWL. Interviewed on May 25, 2000.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bruce Dorminey
    • 1
  1. 1.ParisFrance

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