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Sept. 15, 2011
Advanced Maui Optical and Space Surveillance Technologies Conference

The Sky is the Limit

Kulia I ka nu‘u: Strive for the summit

The Advanced Maui Optical and Space Surveillance Technologies Conference is the premier technical conference devoted to space surveillance and the opportunity to address your group provides a unique chance to share with you the broad scientific and technical initiatives of the University of Hawai‘i.

One interpretation of the sentiment “the sky’s the limit” in Hawaiian would be the saying “kulia i ka nu‘u”, which was the personal motto of Queen Kapi‘olani who, with her husband, ruled the Hawaiian nation in the mid-1800s. It means to always strive for the summit, an appropriate thought for our audience today.

We are on the island of Maui, home of majestic Haleakala Crater, the House of the Sun. In Hawaiian tradition and lore, Haleakala was also the site of a famous deed by Maui, a beloved demigod of Hawai‘i. Hawaiian tradition tells that Maui’s mother was having trouble getting her tapa cloth to dry in the sun. So Maui helped her. He went up to Haleakala and lassoed the sun from that nu‘u, from that summit. He did so to persuade the sun to move more slowly across the sky, allowing for more hours of daylight and tapa drying warmth to reach the earth.

Maui lassoed the sun to help his mother and all the people of Hawai‘i nei—to make life a bit easier for them. Today we seek to follow Maui’s example in connecting with the various bodies of distant space, not simply to say we can do it or out of curiosity, but because we believe that in doing so we may be able to help our families, our community and our planet.

Is it in that same spirit of service that I report to you today some information about the University of Hawai‘i, our state’s premier public institution of higher learning. We are experiencing our highest enrollment ever at just over 60,000 students at 10 campuses statewide. We can be found on all major islands, at our flagship research campus, four-year baccalaureate campuses, community colleges or learning centers. UH brought in nearly half a billion dollars in the past year in extra-mural funding and we plan to continue growing that critical part of our mission, which adds jobs and income to the state’s economy. In addition, although the University of Hawai‘i may be a public university in a small state, it is extremely fortunate to be the steward of two of the five best astronomical sites in the world.

While most people generally associate Mauna Kea on the island of Hawai‘i with astronomy, astronomy and space surveillance in Hawai‘i actually started here on Maui, at Haleakala.

Many people may not know that it was not the United States Department of Defense who first tracked satellites from Haleakala Observatory; it was the University of Hawai‘i.

In 1956, we sold 200-shares of Eastman Kodak stock for $75.75 a share. With about $15,000 from the profits of that sale, we constructed a roll-off roof observatory to house the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory’s Baker-Nunn Super-Schmidt satellite tracking camera. That was seven years before we leased land for what is know today as the Maui Space Surveillance Complex.

Considering the value of Kodak stock today, the university’s decision to invest in astronomy can absolutely be characterized as far-sighted!

In 1964 UH built the Mees Solar Observatory, the first high altitude solar observatory in the world, and today we hold a permit to construct the National Science Foundation’s Advanced Technology Solar Telescope.

The ATST Science Working Group studied more than 72-sites and determined Haleakala Observatory to be the best daytime observing site in the world.

Haleakala is truly the house of the sun. The ATST’s 4-meter off-axis telescope will use adaptive optics to observe the solar atmosphere and the faintest layers of the corona at wavelengths from visible through mid-infrared at or near the diffraction limit.

ATST observations will help us understand the physics behind the ionization of Earth’s atmosphere, which affects communications and space surveillance, and theromospheric heating, which can cause variations in satellite drag, making it difficult to track satellites and space debris.

In the mid 1970s the University of Hawai‘i used lasers from the Lunar Research, or LURE Observatory on Haleakala to track satellites. We also shot lasers at retroreflector arrays left on the moon by Apollo Astronauts to measure the distance between the Earth and our moon.

Today LURE Observatory houses our Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS) PS1 telescope.

PS1 has a 1.44 gigapixel camera, the largest charged coupled device, or CCD camera in the world. PS1 is capable of mapping stars fainter than 21st magnitude, and with its 7-square degree field of view, it is capable of mapping the available night sky every 14-days.

I know all of you are aware that the numerical magnitude is the scale by which the brightness of stars is measured against; the sun, of course, having a magnitude of 1.

PS1’s science mission has numerous applications ranging from understanding the structure of the solar system to the properties of the universe on the largest scales.

The unique combination of wide field of view and time-resolution capability of this system facilitates the detection of a wide range of transient, variable and moving objects. In particular, it is detecting and cataloging large numbers of Earth-orbit crossing asteroids, or near Earth objects, some as small as 50-meters in diameter, that present a potential threat to mankind.

Blockbuster Hollywood films like Armageddon and Deep Impact aside, these objects do exist, and prior to Pan-STARRS, more money was spent making movies about potentially hazardous objects than looking for them.

In 2001 the University of Hawai‘i started managing the Maui High Performance Computing Center, taking the center from a cooperative agreement activity to a full government contract as required by the Air Force Research Laboratory.

The center has directly supported the mission objectives of the Maui Space Surveillance System with high performance computing, networking, classified computing, software development, program management and the establishment of the High Performance Computing Software Applications Institute for Space Situational Awareness.

Recently the center has transitioned from reliance on congressional-interest funding to a program of record in the executive budget and transitioned from one of the second level Department of Defense high performance computing centers to one of only five Defense Supercomputing Resource Centers in the country.

UH has submitted a proposal to continue to manage center for the Air Force Research Laboratory and hopes to achieve another 10 years of successful collaboration.

In 2007 the Applied Research Laboratory of the University of Hawai‘i was established and staffed by UH scientists with expertise in astronomy, oceanography, advanced electro-optical systems and communications systems. The mission of the laboratory is to provide needed services to its sponsor, the Naval Sea Systems Command, in the laboratory’s areas of expertise. Those areas are

  1. Ocean science and technology
  2. Advanced electro-optics and sensing
  3. Sensors, communications and information technology
  4. Astronomy

The laboratory works on a task order basis and can accept tasks from any federal agency, including such current and former clients as the Navy, the National Science Foundation and NASA.

The UH Hawai‘i Space Flight Laboratory is close to having its first space launch from Kaua‘i. And UH faculty members within the Hawai‘i Institute of Geophysics and Planetology are science team members on numerous spacecraft exploring the Solar System.

This illustrates the high priority that we have on planetary exploration within HIGP. We have four faculty as team members on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter in orbit around the Moon. One faculty member is a team member on the MESSENGER mission in orbit around Mercury. And we have two faculty members on the science team for the Mars Odyssey mission in orbit around Mars.

Of course, all of these faculty members publish frequently on their results, and this promotes new opportunities for our graduate students.

But what does this mean to our next generation of youth who stand out in their back yards and look out into the stars, wondering what is indeed up there? How do we capture that moment and nurture it such that our 5th–12th graders embrace STEM (science, technology, engineering and math)? How do we help them feel comfortable and confident that they can use the basic scientific method to answer real world questions?

This is not something the University of Hawai‘i can do on its own. We can however work with partners like the Maui Economic Development Board.

I first came to know MEDB when I was at UC Santa Cruz. The board was a founding partner with the UC Santa Cruz Center for Adaptive Optics and then–Maui Community College in developing and launching the Akamai Internship program.

I am pleased to say that program continues today under the auspices of the UH Institute for Astronomy. Over the course of the past 10 years it has supported 171 interns, many of them hosted and then hired by local companies in the audience.

MEDB seeks to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers. For more than a decade it has been developing and implementing a multi-faceted STEM pipeline approach that stretches the full continuum from kindergarten to career placement. Their nationally recognized programs are helping to build a homegrown skilled workforce that reflects the rich diversity of Hawai‘i.

One of the foundations of all MEDB programs is a close association with local STEM industry representatives in partnerships to invest in our future workforce.

Let me offer a few more thoughts on workforce development and the human resource opportunities in this field. I am speaking today primarily of sophisticated technology and space surveillance and it is important to recognize this is a rapidly developing and changing demographic in higher education and science today.

Sixty percent of the undergraduates in colleges and universities across the nation today are women. In many fields, they exceed the number of men. Although the numbers may still lag in astronomy and related disciplines, it is clear that if we want to maintain and continue to build upon our level of expertise in science and technology in the future, we must successfully engage females in the scientific fields.

It is gratifying that here in Hawai‘i we have leading programs that reach out and draw women and girls into the sciences, such as Maui’s Women in Technology Project and others. We need to recognize these trends will continue to increase, and we must continue to plan for these societal shifts or we will fall behind.

Later today, you are going to see 300 energetic middle school students and teachers right here on property. This is a reflection of MEDB’s expanding partnership with the Space Foundation’s Space in the Classroom initiative. Undoubtedly, you will hear excitement throughout the hotel as students will meet an astronaut and participate in hands-on activities in optics, while several Maui teachers have the opportunity to participate in a professional development workshop. This is an important national partnership for Hawai‘i’s STEM education.

Perhaps someday soon some of the students you’ll see here today will observe on the 2-meter Faulkes Telescope North on Haleakala. Hawai‘i Middle and High School students have been using UH time on Faulkes to produce science fair projects. Students have discovered a comet, confirmed exoplanet discoveries and discovered near Earth objects.

Most of their observing has been from the IfA’s midlevel facility, the Maikalani Advanced Technology Research Center, where students from UH Maui College and the Akamai Internship program have conducted laboratory research projects in adaptive optics and remote sensing.

I guess the saying “the sky’is the limit” to what these efforts can lead to is truly accurate in this case.

In closing, I want to thank MEDB and all of you who worked so hard to organize this AMOS conference. I especially want to thank all of you who came to Maui to attend. We hope you get some time to enjoy our island while you are here—pristine beaches, natural beauty and a warm tropical climate are not exactly hardship duty—but we know that is not why you are here.

As I’ve shared with you briefly this morning, our islands and our university are the stewards of some of the finest astronomy sites and facilities in the world, In addition to expanding our knowledge of everything from potentially hazardous near-Earth objects, to solar activity, to fundamental questions about the universe, these programs create innovation in optics, high-performance computing and other areas, as well as bring to light workforce development needs.

The University of Hawai‘i, together with MEDB and other partners, is involved in every facet of that activity and I hope it is clear to you that this tranquil environment in our islands is ideal for intellectual thought and productive scientific collaboration. I thank you for the opportunity to tell you a bit about what we’re doing, and I look forward to the new opportunities and collaborations that will come out of this conference and the discussions we have here.