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

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Docket #:2023-01

This proposal has been submitted for review.

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 the IEEE Section(s) in which the plaque(s) will be located 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:

University of Hawaii's 2.2 meter (88 inch) Mauna Kea Telescope, 1970

Plaque citation summarizing the achievement and its significance:

Dedicated on June 26, 1970, the University of Hawaii's 2.2 meter (88 inch) computer-controlled astronomical telescope located at 13,796 feet on Mauna Kea's peak was the world's highest. It location near the equator, and above 40% of Earth's atmosphere and nearly 90% of its water vapor, enabled observing conditions of almost all of the sky. This resulted in the most advanced and powerful Earth-based observations of heavenly bodies.

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.

In 1964, Gov Burns of Hawaii, bulldozed a crude road to allow Gerard Kuiper, Director of Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, University of Arizona, access to the top of Puu Poliahu cinder cone on Mauna Kea for seeing tests. Kuiper concluded Mauna Kea was the best site in the world for ground-based astronomy. Due to the site elevation 13,796 feet (4,205 meters), it is above 40% of Earth's atmosphere and nearly 90% of atmospheric water vapor, which absorbs infrared wavelengths important for planetary surface characterization. Located near the equator, it enables observation of almost all the sky. Dedicated on June 26, 1970, the University of Hawaii 88-inch computer controlled, astronomical telescope became the world’s highest. Providing much useful data in support of the Apollo missions to the moon in the 1970s and planetary missions, as well as stellar and galactic observations. In 1992, the discovery of the Kuiper Belt, distant objects beyond Neptune, led to the demotion and declassification of Pluto as a planet. The platform was also used to develop new tools for telescopes that are now industry standard on telescopes around the world including the Mauna Kea Keck observatory completed in 1992. The 2020 Nobel Prize award acknowledged the prestigious Mauna Kea Keck facility pioneering discovery that our galaxy has at its center a supermassive black hole (Sagittarius A) led by Andrea Ghez of UCLA. Today, it is fully automated with robotic remote control from UH-Hilo.

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

The Aerospace and Electronic Systems Society (AESS) and the Geoscience and Remote Sensing Society (GRSS)

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: Brianne Tengan

IEEE Organizational Unit(s) arranging the dedication ceremony:

Unit: Hawaii Section
Senior Officer Name: Brianne Tengan

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

IEEE Section: Hawaii Section
IEEE Section Chair name: Brianne Tengan

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: {{{Proposer name}}}
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 (USSR), 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. He 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 the 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 Hawaii at 4,207 meters, and they noticed that it stood above the clouds almost all of the time.

At the invitation of Mitsuo Akiyama of the Hawaii Island Chamber of Commerce, Kuiper visited the Big Island in 1964. He traveled to the end of the road at Hale Pohaku, at the 2800 meter elevation where conditions seemed promising, but travel beyond this point 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, and there a 12.5 inch reflecting telescope was placed. In June of 1964, Herring began measurements of atmospheric clarity (called “seeing”) and of water content. Herring reported to Kuiper that on a scale of 0 (very poor) to 10 (perfect), many nights rated 9 or 10.

As was ultimately obvious to both Herring and Kuiper, the challenges of the location (addressed further below) were worth the cost and effort because of the quality of the viewing from the Big Island location. Being above the clouds is significant, but in addition being above the atmosphere in general reduces the impact of the air mass thermal instability on resolving power (how much can be clearly viewed). The air at lower elevations creates a scintillation effect on the images gathered, and this blurs content.

Kuiper 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, Arizona location. As NASA administrators were concerned that LPL could be overextended, they 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 UH President Thomas Hamilton to lobby the Hawaii State government, to provide roughly 3 million dollars for infrastructure . With Governor Burns' enthusiastic support, this funding was included in the UH proposal to NASA. On July 1, 1965, NASA awarded the contract to the UH.

At a June 26, 1970 dedication ceremony of the new observatory, 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.”

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 the island was too long, and concrete would begin to set up in the trucks. To deal with this, 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” – an 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 they lived in a temporary building at the end of the paved road at Hale Pohaku (Stone House) when not working. When completed the telescope was the first to be controlled by computer, an IBM 1800.

To be clear, light gathering systems are defined by a physical limiting function that has three parameters:

1. Wavelength

2. Distance to target

3. Aperture diameter

The relevant equation defines a direct relation between the diameter and the resolution (clarity) one can achieve with a system. Several smaller telescopes can only add up to one if they are fully coordinated down to the nanometer level, which was impossible in the 1970s, and which is still exquisitely expensive/difficult even in the 2020s (this coordination process is called phasing). By doing the extra work to build out the larger primary aperture, the value of the collector was improved dramatically.

It should be noted that the logistic difficulties in building this site in Hawaii were some of the most significant ever for the development of a scientific research location. These difficulties are greater only in Antarctica. Ultimately, the decision to build at the site was vindicated by the degree of collection success.

What features set this work apart from similar achievements?

Significance of the Technical Achievement and Historical Content:

1) In 1970, this was the world’s highest computer-controlled astronomical telescope (UH News 6/26/2020).

2) In the 1970s, data collected was used to support Apollo missions to the Moon.

3) In the 1980s, the site studied and discovered dozens of Pluto-like objects (UH News 6/26/2020).

4) 1992 discoveries include the Kuiper Belt and distant objects beyond Neptune and this led to the demotion and declassification of Pluto as a planet. (UH News 6/26/2020).

5) The platform was used to develop new tools for telescopes that are now industry standard around the world (UH News 6/26/2020).

6) In 1992 the Mauna Kea Keck observatory was completed, and the 2020 Nobel Prize award acknowledged the prestigious Mauna Kea facility pioneering discovery that our galaxy has at its center a supermassive black hole (Sagittarius A). This effort was led by Prof Ghez of UCLA (Midweek 2/3/2021). The site became fully automated for remote robotic control from UH-Hilo (work done by Christoph Baranec).

As to the uniqueness of this site, there are only six other major observatories for astronomical collection:

1. Palomar (California)

2. Lowell (Arizona)

3. Haleakala Maui Scopes (Hawaii)

4. Aricebo (Puerto Rico)

5. Hubble (Space Telescope I)

6. Keck (Space Telescope II)

The great majority of the astronomical discoveries that define our cosmological understanding were made at these sites.

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.

1) University of Hawaii (UH) News article 6-26-2020: “Maunakea’s First Large Telescope Celebrates 50 Years of Science”.

a. UH’s 88-inch (UH-88) telescope celebrated it’s golden (50th) anniversary on June 26, 2020. Dedicated June 26, 1970, it was the 8th largest in the world. Today it is the smallest operational telescope on Mauna Kea. b. Decades of incredible scientific output, and unparalleled astronomy from Mauna Kea, the observatory continues to modernize and pave the way for others. c. Before digital cameras, astronomers manually guided the telescope using photographic plates and later analog electronic detectors. Today it is fully robotic with automated control systems with multiple cameras. d. It is the only telescope on Mauna Kea dedicated to UH astronomers. e. UH-88 was used to make important discoveries and develop tools that astronomers use at telescopes around the world and in space. i. Mark Rognstad Input: 1. In the 1970s, the UH-88 was used in support of the Apollo missions tracking the Moon landings sites. 2. In the 1980s, the UH-88 was used for robotic missions tracking deep space probes. ii. Starting in the 1980s the UH-88 was used to search for Pluto-like objects and found dozens. In 1992, discovered the Kuiper Belt, distant objects beyond Neptune. This led astronomers to realize Pluto was one of these large objects in the Kuiper Belt, which resulted in the demotion of Pluto from a planet. iii. New tools like “HAWAII” series of infrared imaging detectors (HgCdTe Astronomical Wide Area Imager). HAWAII arrays are now industry standard on many telescopes around the world. iv. In 2008, UH-88 was the first telescope on Mauna Kea to switch to fully automate remote observing.

2) Honolulu, Hawaii Midweek article 2-3-2021: “Starring Role: In Claiming the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics, Astronomer Andrea Ghez Sheds New Light on Black Holes and Their Intimate Connection to the Evolution of the Milky Way”. a. At the W.M. Keck Observatory on Mauna Kea, Prof Ghez made the pioneering discovery that our galaxy has at its center a supermassive black hole known as Sagittarius A (A-Star). b. 27 year-long effort leading up to the discovery of A-Star earned her the Nobel Prize and she’s happy to share with Hawaii’s prestigious Mauna Kea facility (Keck).

3) Christoph’s e-mail dated 10-18-2022 showed current plaque on UH-88 site: NASA and NSF provided significant funding support for the UH-88 for Solar System Astronomy. See photo of site dedication plaque June 26, 1970 mentioning funds from NASA and NSF.

4) Partial transcript from John Jefferies interview 7-29-1977:

a.	At the end of 1963, after a site visit to Haleakala which had many other installations and was crowded, Kuiper also visited Mauna Kea, which was inaccessible to motor transportation.  He liked what he saw better than Haleakala and put up a site testing dome.

b. In early 1964 after Gov Burns bulldoze a crude road to allow Kuiper access to the top of Puu Poliahu cinder cone, he installed a little U of AZ dome with a 10-12 inch telescope for seeing tests. Kuiper concluded Mauna Kea was the best site in the world for ground-based astronomy. c. In 1964 two groups, the Univ of Arizona and Harvard University had competing telescope proposal designs for NASA’s $3M grant. d. On July 1, 1965 UH announced an award of $3M contract to build the UH-88. e. The primary “trouble” was with the control system, programmer working on the IBM 1800. This was one of the first computer-controlled telescopes if you include the Defense Department instruments that were computer controlled at the time. Integrating a telescope drive mechanism with the IBM 1800 computer involving instrumentation, electronic control, and electronic data acquisition system. Also, UH-88 needed electronic engineering in-house.

5) Encyclopedia Britannica report updated 2-12-2024: “Mauna Kea Observatory”. See detailed report.

6) A Gentle Rain of Starlight: The Story of Astronomy on Mauna Kea Paperback – October 15, 2005by Michael J. West (Author).

7) A Sky Wonderful with Stars: 50 Years of Modern Astronomy on Maunakea (Latitude 20) Hardcover – Illustrated, July 31, 2015 by Michael J. West (Author).

8) Mauna Kea: A Guide to Hawaii's Sacred Mountain Paperback – November 15, 2013by Leslie Lang (Author), David A. Byrne (Author).

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).

Please recommend reviewers by emailing their names and email addresses to Please include the docket number and brief title of your proposal in the subject line of all emails.