In Response to The Kona Blog… Military and the Mountain Observatories

Aaron at the Konablog recently wrote a post regarding a  comment I left on his blog, and I figured I would address it on my own turf ;) (Sorry about the Fonts as I cut and pasted a lot of this)

As far as military angle,I would like some hard proof that the military is directly benefiting or using the existing telescopes. Until that point, it is simply a conspiracy theory.”

Here’s just a few links I’ll pull together real quick:

…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.

…The U.S. military did it in the late 1980s, however, Thompson said in a telephone interview. At that same time, Thompson and some colleagues were working on the idea, too, and he was involved in the first successful laser guide star, generated in 1987 — also coincidentally on Mauna Kea.

Military researchers were surprised at the time, he said, and rushed to get their parallel efforts declassified in order to get credit for the breakthrough. The declassification of that material in the early 1990s helped civilian astronomers perfect the technique, Thompson said.

Today’s adaptive optics systems include the two Air Force facilities mentioned above (3-m class telescopes at the Starfire Optical Range in Albuquerque and the Advanced Electro-Optical Facility on Maui), and about half a dozen 3 -5 m class astronomical telescopes around the world. The newest additions are systems for the new generation of 8 – 10 m astronomical telescopes: the Keck I and II Telescopes and the Gemini North Telescope, all atop the Mauna Kea volcano in Hawaii.


NOW I WOULD LIKE SOME SOLID PROOF THAT THIS BUGGAH is going to help us…. any links with facts?

3 Responses

  1. It’s funny people thinking the telescopes are working for the military, when evidence suggests that it is the military is worried about the telescopes seeing one of their birds up there. This is of course extremely unlikely, for the reasons Andrew Cooper explained.

    Another argument to reassure Damon: The military is extremely paranoid about foreign nationals, right?. If there was a military agenda, the observatories wouldn’t be crawling with foreigners – we have all sorts up there, East Europeans, Chinese, everybody – and not even a background check.

    It is true that PAN-STARRS (not currently on Mauna Kea) is partially funded by Air Force pork. It’s a long story, but again,
    it comes down to the mil being worried about what astronomers are seeing. Did I mention the military is paranoid already?

  2. Hat tip to Andrew for the very detailed response about the military not using the Mauna Kea telescopes. Hopefully that addresses your concern, Damon.

  3. I have run into these accusations of military use for the big telescopes, on the islands the US military seems to be the boogieman everyone brings up to discredit anything. The biggest scopes are useless for military work, they are simply not equipped for the type of work the military would want. The only military application for a good sized telescope is imaging and analyzing other nation’s satellites.

    The USAF Space Command has their own telescopes for this duty, located in New Mexico and Maui, these ’scopes are designed for this role. This job takes a medium sized, nimble telescope that can track a fast target across the sky and use a specially designed adaptive optics system to sharpen the image. The really big scopes can not do it. I don’t think Keck could even track an object in low Earth orbit, too fast, our software certainly isn’t set up for it, and the AO system would be useless on a satellite.

    Yes, the AO technology was originally intended for use with military systems. The Keck system is in some ways a direct descendant of the work done at the Starfire Range, some of the parts even say “Starfire” on them! But this is a classic case of military technology being used for a peaceful purpose. We took the technology and redesigned it for another application. “Swords into ploughshares” is an apt description. This is the path hundreds of other technologies have taken, invented for war, but ending up being useful for much more.

    The line of reasoning that we use a military technology, we must be working with the military does not work. You probably have a microwave oven in your kitchen, you must be clandestinely working with the US Army.

    Skip the military angle, it simply isn’t true when applied to the TMT.

    Damon – Mahalo for your input Andrew… This is my 200th comment and I’m about to commemorate it on my blog. How can I just simply skip the military angle of this…when I’m so Anti-Military?

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