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January 2005

Hawai`i News


Hilo's Space Needle

by Marlene Hapai

What do Hilo, Hawai`i and Seattle, Washington have in common (besides of lots of Hawaiians and lots of aloha)? By November 2005, the charming little town of Hilo, on the Big Island of Hawai`i will be able to show off its own icon. Seattle has its Space Needle and Hilo will have the Mauna Kea Astronomy Education Center designed with three distinct peaks to represent Hawai`i island’s highest mountains: Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa and Hualālai. You can already see them clearly from the airport and Hilo Bay. These peaks, sheathed in titanium, provide the center with a space-aged look hinting at the science and culture intertwining within.

In 1999, the University of Hawai`i at Hilo (UHH) received its first grant to plan and develop a center dedicated to the astronomy and Hawaiian culture associated with Mauna Kea and the voyages of yesterday and today that led, and continue to lead, Polynesian and Hawaiian navigators and scientists to new discoveries. The center will help bring the mountain to the people and reduce the need to go there. In January of 2004 ground was broken and by June, close to nine acres of the UHH Park of Science and Technology cleared and the building slab poured for the $28 million, 40,000 square foot center to come. With the end of 2004, the center is now 65% complete. By July 2005 center construction should be done and a grand opening targeted for November, 2005 when all venues will be operational.

So what would you come to Hilo to see at this new center? Plenty! Starting from the outside, the landscaping will give you a feeling of climbing Mauna Kea as you drive into the parking lot and head toward the center. Original plants brought in the first canoes will be planted on the bottom left corner, representing the shores on which the Polynesians first landed. All other plants will be native to Hawai`i and will represent Hawaiian geographic locations from the sea to the mountain. As you approach the center, you will reach the “mountain top”, peaks and all, which will be surrounded by rock sculptures, barren and similar to the environment of Mauna Kea’s summit.

Entering the center, the entry “peak” (Hualālai) provides choices for each visitor. Turn to the extreme right and you are on your way to our classroom for a lecture or class or to the restaurant peak (Mauna Loa) to enjoy good local food or maybe even the astronomical dessert of the month. Or, you can go to the traveling exhibit hall which will house exciting exhibits that stay awhile and then travel on to share their wonders with others elsewhere.

One of the center’s two biggest attractions will be the 12,000 square foot main exhibit hall that includes the story of Mauna Kea and the origins and voyages of astronomers and Hawai`i’s native people. This story will be told like nowhere else on Earth with a theater devoted to the Kumulipo, the Hawaiian chant that describes the creation of the cosmos, followed by the scientific story of the Big Bang theory providing evidence for the same. Then there are voyages to go on through telescopes of the many astronomers on Mauna Kea today and those of Hawai`i’s people who navigated the largest ocean in the world to get here and continue their cultural voyages today. An observatory simulator will make you feel like an astronomer or let you just enjoy some of the beautiful pictures they have taken documenting astronomical events or images that the naked eye and the simple telescope would never see. Added to this, a Voyage through Space theater will share the wonderments of the universe as they have been recorded by scientists worldwide. You will travel 4-D (3D plus time) through space witnessing these fantastic events that have been captured through today’s technology. These, and 300 other exhibits will bring the worlds of science and culture to life for each who enters this hall of discovery and exploration.

Done with the exhibit hall or with greater interest in planetarium shows? Visit the planetarium (Mauna Kea), sporting the latest in laser projection technology and seating 124 people. Its full dome video and surround sound renditions of the science and culture of Mauna Kea, the wonders of the universe and many more special shows will have you leaving with an immersive experience of the cutting edge technology just coming into the planetarium world today and with a desire to come back for more.

With additional rooms and space inside and out, the center promises to not only be a place to discover new things, but also a place for meetings, small conferences, educational programs and to enjoy special occasions, like weddings, graduation, birthday and anniversary parties.

So who would have thought Seattle and Hilo would have so much in common in 2005, like Hawaiians and icons? Yes, much in common, but Hilo and the Big Island have something different too, that each resident and visitor alike needs to come and experience for themselves: a center that captures the wonders of the universe through Mauna Kea’s telescopes, bridges science and culture and serves to inspire our youth to not only dream, but become our scientists of the future.

E komo mai. See you in November, 2005 or shortly thereafter. This will be another wonderful reason to come home to visit or to share special times with your family and friends. Hilo’s icon, the Mauna Kea Astronomy Education Center, awaits you. (For additional stories about the Mauna Kea Astronomy Education Center, please see Hawai`i News December 2004 and Hawai`i News April 2006)

Dr. Marlene Hapai is the Director of the Mauna Kea Astronomy Education Center in Hilo, Hawai`i. While a professor at UH-Hilo, she submitted a proposal in 1993 for a science center that was used as the foundation for MKAEC. Born and raised in Honoka`a, Dr. Hapai received a BA from Gonzaga University, an MS and PhD in Entomology from the University of Hawai`i at Mānoa. You may contact her at (808) 933-3917 or email: hapai@hawaii.edu.

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