TMT plans to ask for federal money after validation from US astronomy community

The Thirty Meter Telescope tells Hawaii News Now it will ask the federal government for money now that it has a major stamp of approval by the scientific commun
Published: Nov. 5, 2021 at 4:29 PM HST|Updated: Nov. 7, 2021 at 10:43 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Thirty Meter Telescope tells Hawaii News Now it will ask the federal government for money now that it has a major stamp of approval by the scientific community.

Every 10 years the American astronomy community comes together to put out a report to prioritize major facilities and programs.

The newest Astronomy and Astrophysics Decadal Survey by the National Academy of Sciences recommended that the federal government invest in two large telescope projects: The Giant Magellan Telescope in Chile and the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea.

The survey said the TMT and GMT are needed to maintain U.S. leadership and that it would be “disastrous if no U.S. Extremely Large Telescope Project is realized.”

Kerry Slater, TMT chief of staff and vice president of communications, said inclusion in the survey is welcome news for the project. “One of our next steps will be to likely make a proposal to the federal government for funding,” she said.

Doug Simons, director of UH Institute for Astronomy, added: “It’s a reason for a sigh of relief and a point of celebration.”

Simons says the survey shows approval for TMT, astronomy on Mauna Kea and could lead to federal funding for the telescope project ― estimated to cost $2.65 billion.

“This opens up a very plausible pathway forward for federal support for TMT,” said Simons.

Delayed by protests in 2015 and 2019 and then the pandemic, TMT says it’s focusing on engaging with Hawaiian communities while the telescope parts are being completed abroad.

“Eight-two percent of TMT key subsystems are now in final design or fabrication,” Slater said.

“Over the past few months, we redoubled our efforts to listen and learn and build relationships and trust with the Hawaiian community,” she added.

But the survey also said astronomers have not always engaged adequately with local communities impacted by observatories.

“This perspective has prioritized facilities over their impact on people and cultures and is facing increased resistance from those most impacted,” said the survey.

TMT opponents say they’re frustrated scientists and the state are still trying to push forward with the controversial project.

“Actions of our people standing for a year on the mauna, our kupuna getting arrested is our lack of consent for the TMT,” said Kealoha Pisciotta, president of Mauna Kea Anaina Hou.

“It’s no longer some Hawaiians. It’s many, many Hawaiians have come forward to say no,” she added.

But TMT supporters hope both telescopes are funded.

“I think they are going to be really important for Hawaii, the United States and for humanity,” said Sam King, executive director of Imua TMT.

Simons also said the survey re-affirmed his belief that there needs to be more astronomy students from Hawaii.

“What really resonated with me in the state of the profession is commentary on the lack of indigenous representation in the field of astronomy,” he said.

There is no date to resume construction of TMT at Mauna Kea, but the project is permitted to build anytime up until 2033.

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