Milestone-Proposal:University of Hawai'i 2.2 meter (88 inch) Observatory

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Docket #:2023-01

This is a draft proposal, that has not yet been submitted. To submit this proposal, click on the edit button in toolbar above, indicated by an icon displaying a pencil on paper. At the bottom of the form, check the box that says "Submit this proposal to the IEEE History Committee for review. Only check this when the proposal is finished" and save the page.

To the proposer’s knowledge, is this achievement subject to litigation? No

Is the achievement you are proposing more than 25 years old? Yes

Is the achievement you are proposing within IEEE’s designated fields as defined by IEEE Bylaw I-104.11, namely: Engineering, Computer Sciences and Information Technology, Physical Sciences, Biological and Medical Sciences, Mathematics, Technical Communications, Education, Management, and Law and Policy. Yes

Did the achievement provide a meaningful benefit for humanity? Yes

Was it of at least regional importance? Yes

Has an IEEE Organizational Unit agreed to pay for the milestone plaque(s)? Yes

Has an IEEE Organizational Unit agreed to arrange the dedication ceremony? Yes

Has the IEEE Section in which the milestone is located agreed to take responsibility for the plaque after it is dedicated? Yes

Has the owner of the site agreed to have it designated as an IEEE Milestone? Yes

Year or range of years in which the achievement occurred:


Title of the proposed milestone:

Mauna Kea Observatory University of Hawai'i 2.2 meter (88 inch) Telescope, 1970

Plaque citation summarizing the achievement and its significance:

The 2.2 meter (88 inch) telescope was the first advanced research telescope to be built near the summit of Mauna Kea, to take advantage of unequaled observing conditions found at high elevation on Hawaii. The site is above 40% of Earth's atmosphere and nearly 90% of water vapor. Located near the equator, it enables observation of almost of all the sky.

200-250 word abstract describing the significance of the technical achievement being proposed, the person(s) involved, historical context, humanitarian and social impact, as well as any possible controversies the advocate might need to review.

IEEE technical societies and technical councils within whose fields of interest the Milestone proposal resides.

In what IEEE section(s) does it reside?


IEEE Organizational Unit(s) which have agreed to sponsor the Milestone:

IEEE Organizational Unit(s) paying for milestone plaque(s):

Unit: Hawaii Section
Senior Officer Name: Roxanne Birch

IEEE Organizational Unit(s) arranging the dedication ceremony:

Unit: Hawaii Section
Senior Officer Name: Roxanne Birch

IEEE section(s) monitoring the plaque(s):

IEEE Section: Hawaii Section
IEEE Section Chair name: Roxanne Birch

Milestone proposer(s):

Proposer name: Mark Rognstad
Proposer email: Proposer's email masked to public

Proposer name: John Borland
Proposer email: Proposer's email masked to public

Proposer name: Sophie Tang
Proposer email: Proposer's email masked to public

Please note: your email address and contact information will be masked on the website for privacy reasons. Only IEEE History Center Staff will be able to view the email address.

Street address(es) and GPS coordinates in decimal form of the intended milestone plaque site(s):

19.82314°N, 155.4702°W

Describe briefly the intended site(s) of the milestone plaque(s). The intended site(s) must have a direct connection with the achievement (e.g. where developed, invented, tested, demonstrated, installed, or operated, etc.). A museum where a device or example of the technology is displayed, or the university where the inventor studied, are not, in themselves, sufficient connection for a milestone plaque.

Please give the address(es) of the plaque site(s) (GPS coordinates if you have them). Also please give the details of the mounting, i.e. on the outside of the building, in the ground floor entrance hall, on a plinth on the grounds, etc. If visitors to the plaque site will need to go through security, or make an appointment, please give the contact information visitors will need. Exterior of observatory building

Are the original buildings extant?


Details of the plaque mounting:

On the outside of the building

How is the site protected/secured, and in what ways is it accessible to the public?

Access to the summit area of Mauna Kea, where the observatory is located, is paved up to the 9,000 foot level, but requires 4 wheel drive vehicles to reach the top. The road is open to the public during the day, but closes as necessary for weather conditions.

Who is the present owner of the site(s)?

University of Hawaii at Manoa, Institute for Astronomy

What is the historical significance of the work (its technological, scientific, or social importance)? If personal names are included in citation, include justification here. (see section 6 of Milestone Guidelines)

In the late 1950’s the space race started between the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, leading to a great increase in interest in geophysics and planetary exploration. The University of Hawaii (UH) received funding from the National Science Foundation in 1961 to establish the Hawaii Institute of Geophysics (HIG), and one of the projects of this new institute was to build a solar observatory near the summit of Haleakala on the island of Maui. Haleakala reaches 3055 meters elevation, and has a paved road enabling easy access to the peak. Gerard Kuiper, Director of the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona, came to Hawaii to investigate the suitability of high altitude sites for astronomical observatories, and visited the Haleakala site with his Native Hawaiian assistant, Alika Herring. Kuiper recognized the particular advantage of high altitude sites as being above a significant amount of the earth’s atmosphere and in particular, almost all of atmospheric water vapor, which strongly absorbs infrared radiation. They found conditions on Haleakala “excellent”, but subject to clouds and occasional fog. In the distance across the Alenuihaha Channel, they could see the summit of Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawai’I; at 4,207 meters, it stood above the clouds almost all the time. At the invitation of Mitsuo Akiyama of the Hawai’I Island Chamber of Commerce, Kuiper visited the Big Island in 1964, travelling to the end of the road at Hale Pohaku, at the 2800 m elevation; conditions seemed promising, but travel beyond Hale Pohaku was only possible on foot. Kuiper then met with Hawaii Governor John Burns, who agreed to fund a bulldozer to cut a dirt road to Pu’u Poliahu, a peak next to the summit. By April that road was finished, and a small concrete slab was poured to make up the foundation for a dome, in which a 12.5 inch reflecting telescope was placed. In June of 1964, Herring began measurements of atmospheric clarity, called “seeing”, and measurements of water content. Herring reported to Kuiper that on a scale of 0 (very poor) to 10 (perfect), many nights rated 9 or 10. At a dedication ceremony, Kuiper proclaimed “This mountaintop . . . is probably the best site in the world – I repeat – in the world, from which to study the Moon, the Planets, the Stars . . . It is a jewel! This is the place where the most advanced and powerful observations from this Earth can be made.” Kiuper proposed that NASA fund the relocation of a 28 inch telescope from the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory (LPL) to the top of Mauna Kea, which LPL would manage from their Tucson location. NASA administrators were concerned that LPL could be overextended, and solicited proposals from Hawaii and Harvard. At the time, the University of Hawaii didn’t have an astronomy department – just a few solar astronomers led by John Jeffries at HIG. Jefferies enlisted the president of UH, Thomas Hamilton to lobby the Hawaii State government, for the state to provide roughly 3 million dollars for infrastructure . Governor Burns was an enthusiastic supporter. This made the UH proposal very attractive, and on July 1, 1965, the contract was awarded.

What obstacles (technical, political, geographic) needed to be overcome?

The largest problem was dealing with the location. The original dirt road was lengthened by adding some switchbacks, but was still unpaved and steep in sections. Travel time from concrete plants on Hawaii Island was too long - concrete would begin to set up in the trucks – so a “batch plant” was set up below the summit cinder cone. Cement, sand, aggregate, and water were trucked up to the plant and mixed there, where it could be delivered to the construction site in a fraction of an hour.. The telescope itself was built by Boller and Chivens, a telescope manufacturer in Pasadena, California. Everything had to come up the long road to the summit site, and the telescope had to be designed for self-sufficiency. The observatory dome included a “horn” – and extension added near the top of the dome – that carried a crane, so the 88 inch mirror could be lifted out of the telescope and lowered into a wing of the building. There it could be placed in a large vacuum chamber, where aluminum vapor could be deposited on the mirror to renew the reflective surface, Workers had to acclimatize to the altitude at the summit, and lived in temporary building built at the end of the paved road at Hale Pohaku (Stone House) when not working. The telescope was the first to be controlled by computer, an IBM 1800.

What features set this work apart from similar achievements?

Supporting texts and citations to establish the dates, location, and importance of the achievement: Minimum of five (5), but as many as needed to support the milestone, such as patents, contemporary newspaper articles, journal articles, or chapters in scholarly books. 'Scholarly' is defined as peer-reviewed, with references, and published. You must supply the texts or excerpts themselves, not just the references. At least one of the references must be from a scholarly book or journal article. All supporting materials must be in English, or accompanied by an English translation.

Supporting materials (supported formats: GIF, JPEG, PNG, PDF, DOC): All supporting materials must be in English, or if not in English, accompanied by an English translation. You must supply the texts or excerpts themselves, not just the references. For documents that are copyright-encumbered, or which you do not have rights to post, email the documents themselves to Please see the Milestone Program Guidelines for more information.

Please email a jpeg or PDF a letter in English, or with English translation, from the site owner(s) giving permission to place IEEE milestone plaque on the property, and a letter (or forwarded email) from the appropriate Section Chair supporting the Milestone application to with the subject line "Attention: Milestone Administrator." Note that there are multiple texts of the letter depending on whether an IEEE organizational unit other than the section will be paying for the plaque(s).

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