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With the mirrors delivered and during the period

telescopes) impacts the even larger telescope projects

of Gemini’s commissioning late in the 1990s, the

now on the drawing boards. “I think we showed

ramp-up toward scientific operations began in

it can be done, that we can take these extremely

earnest. The challenges of instrument delivery and

sophisticated technologies and produce extremely

integration complicated the situation and added

high image quality from the ground,” he said. “If you

a level of concern for the team. However, work

look at Gemini, Keck, Subaru and VLT, none were

went ahead on integrating operational modes and

a failure. All of these 8-meter-ish-class telescopes, if

transitioning the observatory’s staff into a fully

they hadn’t been successful, I don’t think the next

functioning astronomical observatory.

generation of larger telescopes would have gotten funding.”

Changing a Culture Collectively, what became known as the “8-meter Arguably the most controversial issue was the

Club” (consisting of Gemini, VLT, Subaru – with

plan to make queue, or service observing, a major

Keck as an honorary member), created a powerful

component of Gemini’s operational philosophy.

ad hoc consortium. “I was very impressed with ESO,

Rick McGonegal recalled his early thoughts on

with how willing they [were to share] in annual and

implementing this new approach for ground-based

semi-annual meetings, where all the big telescopes

astronomy: “Inside the project, a number of us

guys got together and basically opened the kimono

were kind of like, you know, that’s never going to

and talked about what’s really working and what’s

work (laughs). But it did. That’s the part to me

not working, without the people that would object

that outperformed it all, because doing that really

to us talking about that stuff being in the room,” said

requires a cultural change [one] that I never thought

McGonegal. He was also impressed with the 8-meter

you’d overcome.”

community’s willingness to talk about what’s going on. Although, McGonegal said, “You can’t point to

Today, more than 90% of Gemini’s observations are

any one thing and say ‘oh jeez we saved X million

queue-based. Similar situations have occurred at

dollars because of this,’”

other observatories where queue scheduling is being used. From his perspective at the European Southern

People, Pets and Partners

Observatory’s (ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT), Dick Kurz reflected on the change in attitude toward

A final theme that permeates discussions of the

queue observing. “[There was] a lot of skepticism in

early Gemini team is the subject of interpersonal

the European community about queue scheduling,

relationships that developed, and the friendships that

(service observing), for optical telescopes,” he said.

formed, especially among spouses of team members.

”Now it is very much the other way around, ESO

Spouses, children, and even pets all contributed to

has to resist… I think they still try to limit service

Gemini in a manner that was not always obvious.

observing to 50% of the time on the VLTs, but

“We moved, I don’t know, 20 to 30 families to

the community now would go to practically 100%

Hawai‘i and had to be concerned not only about

queue (or service) observing if they had their choice

the children in schools but their animals. We had

[but] ESO doesn’t have the necessary personnel or

four animals in quarantine, we took turns saying ‘hi’

resources to support that.”

to everyone’s pets,” said Oschmann, who recalled another story of how his wife Michelle became a bit

Success Breeds Success

more familiar with the technical aspects of Gemini than maybe he would have intended. As was quite


Certainly in shepherding in the cultural transition

common during commissioning, Oschmann was

into queue, (or service) observing, one of the

called in the middle of the night to help solve a

legacies of Gemini will be in the experience gained

problem. Upon awakening and listening to the

by successfully implementing this operational mode

conversation, Michelle made a suggestion: “Just tell

for a ground-based optical/infrared observatory.

them to turn the wavefront sensor on; it’ll work!”

Another legacy that McGonegal sees is how the

she said. Oschmann laughed and added, “And we

success of Gemini (and all of its generation of large

were talking about wavefront sensing and adaptive


Issue 38 - June 2009