Over the last week at work we have been preparing an unused part of the facility for use. We need a place for an industrial freeze dryer and a walk in cooler. But first we had to clear out a massive pile of junk that had accumulated, and do demolition on a lot of old equipment and piping to remodel the space.
Demolition? Break out the sawzall! We used a big sawzall, a small pile of saw blades, an angle grinder with a diamond cutoff wheel, a bit of muscle and a lot of sweat to get it done. The pile of trash accumulated rapidly along the fence, old lumber, a lot of PVC pipe, and a lot of rust… A big dumpster will appear later.
Rust. This close to the ocean everything is badly corroded, do not even try to release the old bolts, just pop a fresh battery into the angle grinder and let the sparks fly. The 20 amp sawzall does not use batteries, good for the thicker pipes and framed walls, it rips through PVC like butter.
I work at the summit of a nearly 14,000ft mountain that sits atop a pretty tropical island. That alone is good enough reason to carry a camera at all times. You never know when you will need that camera, beauty appears when you least expect it.
There are other reasons to carry a camera in my life. I often use the camera to document my work. There is a camera, the little EOS-M, in my backpack alongside the rest of my tools. Wire cutters, screwdrivers, allen wrenches, a multimeter, all the useful tools I need every day, along with a camera, memory cards and spare batteries.
The advent of digital cameras where the cost of each photo is negligible has made this possible. This would not have been practical in the days of film. Yes, I remember those days, counting out every frame of a 36 exposure roll, deciding if the shot was worth it. In this digital age I usually have a dedicated camera along and never worry about shooting. If that camera is out of reach there is always the iPhone in my pocket.
The equipment I work on is often unique, there may be only one copy in the world. Two if we have one installed on both Keck 1 and Keck 2. The documentation can be of varying quality, some is good, some is abysmal, some is just plain wrong. Some of this gear was professionally built by engineers, some of it was built by graduate students who would never need to fix it years later.
Numerologists love the number seven. Another odd number that has come to have a special meaning for no real reason.
I have been working atop Mauna Kea for seven years now. This place that once seemed so alien is now so familiar. I walk through the observatory and look about, noting all of the things I have worked on, installed, or been involved with in some way. There are few parts of the facility I have not touched.
I helped install much of the Keck 1 laser system, from running the cables to aligning the launch telescope. The weather monitoring system atop the roof and in the domes is all my work, a complete replacement of the system over the last few years.
It is the AO systems I have been most involved with, responsible for the day-to-day functionality of the hardware. Entering an AO enclosure so many memories stream about. There is little I have not had to repair or work on in some capacity. I am familiar with every cable, every button and switch. I can recall schematics of many of the devices, the documents that show where everything is interconnected, I have drawn or edited most of them. I have had my small part in every discovery that comes from these amazing systems.
I recall nights with both lasers stabbing the sky, golden beams amongst the bright stars. There have been glorious sunsets, of foggy sunsets when the world turned golden. There have been days we have dug our way into the building through drifts of snow, coatings of ice on every surface with foot long sideways icicles. Of driving through drifts of snow, tire chains scraping the ice, with snow flying and the vehicle skidding towards the guardrail. Of winds so strong they threatened to overturn the vehicles as we scramble to abandon the summit. I have watched the dawn after a long night of observing, the Sun rising above billowing clouds, the first brilliant rays etched into my memories.
Mauna Kea is a place of wonder and beauty that I have been privileged to experience, a treasure of memories to enjoy for a lifetime.