The groundbreaking ceremony for the Gemini North Telescope Base Facility will take place on June 24, 1997 at the University of Hawaii at Hilo University Park. The Base Facility will provide sea level operations support for the 8.1-meter Gemini telescope currently under construction atop Mauna Kea. The announcement of the groundbreaking ceremony was made by Dr. Matt Mountain, Director of the Gemini Project - an international partnership to build twin eight-meter telescopes, one on Mauna Kea, Hawaii and one on Cerro Pachon, Chile.
The ceremony will begin with a blessing led by the Reverend Henry Kahalehili, Minister of Glad Tidings Assembly of God Church and will end with a traditional Hawaiian groundbreaking using o'o sticks. Among the attendees will be: the Honorable Stephen Yamashiro (Mayor of the County of Hawaii), Dr. William Pearman (University of Hawaii at Hilo Interim Vice President and Chancellor), Dr. Donald N. B. Hall (Director of the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy) and Dr. G. Wayne van Citters (Staff Associate for Gemini, National Science Foundation).
The 14,000-square-foot Base Facility was designed by Oda/McCarty Architects Ltd. of Hilo, in a style complementary to that of the adjacent Joint Astronomy Centre. The facility will provide office space for approximately 40 astronomers, engineers and support staff; laboratories for the preparation and maintenance of telescope instrumentation; and a center for remote operation of the telescope using a recently installed fiber-optic communications link.
Construction will begin immediately and is scheduled to finish next spring. In the meantime, office and warehouse space have been leased in Hilo to accommodate the growing needs of the Gemini team as it prepares for telescope integration and commissioning.
"After five years of design and fabrication, the Gemini staff look forward to their first permanent home in Hilo, Hawaii as they prepare for the task of integrating the telescope and preparing for scientific operations," commented Dr. Mountain. "In spite of a succession of difficult winters on Mauna Kea, Gemini construction crews have done a remarkable job maintaining schedules originally set years ago." First light, that milestone signaling the occasion of initial telescope functionality, is targeted for December, 1998.
The Gemini partnership includes the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Argentina, and Brazil. The $184 million dollar project will provide the only 8-meter class telescopes available to the entire astronomical communities of the partner countries. The United States is funding 50 percent of the program with monies from the National Science Foundation. In addition to general access to Gemini South through the share held by the United States, the University of Hawaii receives 10% of the observing time on Gemini North under the terms of the agreement for siting the telescope on Mauna Kea. The Agreement for the Base Facility site in University Park calls for scientific cooperation between Gemini and the University of Hawaii at Hilo.
The Gemini 8-Meter Telescopes Project is managed by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy under a cooperative agreement with the National Science Foundation, which serves as executive agency for the Gemini partner countries.
Background information on the Gemini Project including a continually updated camera image of the Gemini construction on Mauna Kea is available at the Gemini web site at /index.html.