While observing a Haleakala sunrise, Mark Twain was quoted as exclaiming “I felt like the last man, neglected of the judgment, and left pinnacled in mid-heaven, a forgotten relic of a vanished world.”
In 1961, an Executive Order by Governor Quinn set aside land on the summit of Haleakala in a place known as Kolekole, to be under the control and management of the University of Hawaiʻi which established the ‘Haleakala High Altitude Observatory Site,’ sometimes referred to as Science City. (IfA)
But, modern interest in the heavens from Kolekole started a decade earlier. In the spring of 1951, Grote Reber was looking for one of the best sites in the world to undertake radio astronomy experiments.
After the discovery of cosmic radio emissions by Karl Jansky in 1931, one of the first to take up the scientific investigation of these emissions was Reber with a radio telescope in his backyard in Wheaton, Illinois.
In 1951 Reber came to Hawaiʻi to take advantage of a unique geophysical condition. By placing his antenna atop 10,000-foot Haleakala on the island of Maui, he hoped to use the ocean as a reflector so that the antenna received both the direct signal from a cosmic radio source and the signal reflected from the ocean, forming a ‘Lloyd’s Mirror’ type of interferometer.
His antenna was built on a circular track so that it could be rotated in any direction. Reber said “Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa on the island of Hawai`i, each with 4.24 km altitude, are most desirable scientifically. However, Haleakala on the island of Maui is the most practical due to the relatively easy access.” (IfA)
Ultimately, the facility apparently did not function well, because of signal interference. The bulk of the structure was dismantled about 18-months after the facility was completed. (Xamanek)
In 1956, Dr Fred Whipple, director of the Harvard College Observatory and Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory sent a letter to Dr CE Kenneth Mees, explaining the need for a satellite tracking station in Hawaii to form a vital link in a 12-station worldwide tracking network.
Mees was the retired vice president for research of the Eastman Kodak Company and the developer of the color film Kodachrome.
He was especially well known among astronomers because of his interest in developing special photographic emulsions suitable for astrophotography, and his insistence that the company provide these materials to the astronomers at cost. Dr. Whipple asked his old friend if he knew of some way a satellite tracking station could be established in Hawai`i.
Mees turned to the University of Hawaiʻi and offered financial assistance if the University would undertake the project. Mees donated some of his Kodak stock to underwrite the cost.
The University sold the Kodak stock and with the proceeds built a small cinderblock building with a sliding roof to house the anticipated Baker-Nunn Super-Schmidt tracking camera, and a small wood-frame building for living accommodations for the observers.
The satellite tracking facility was ready on July 1, 1957, but the camera was not; they first installed Schmidt meteor-tracking cameras. On October 4, 1957, the Soviets launched Sputnik, the first satellite to be placed in orbit around Earth (forcibly opening the Space Age.) Later, the Baker-Nunn satellite Tracking Camera was dedicated on August 2, 1958.
As tracking technology gradually improved over the years, the usefulness of the Baker-Nunn cameras gradually declined, and the tracking assignments and staff at Haleakala gradually decreased until 1976, when the facility was shut down.
In 1962, Dr Franklin E. Roach of the National Bureau of Standards in Boulder, Colorado, who for many years had conducted photometric studies of auroras, airglow, zodiacal light, and the diffuse galactic light, became intrigued by the possibility of studying these phenomena at a low latitude site.
Haleakala appeared to be an ideal site for such studies because of the atmospheric transparency established earlier, the dark skies uncontaminated by artificial light, the large number of clear nights, and the low latitude (20°N).
January 24, 1964, the University of Hawai`i dedicated the Mees Solar Observatory that would help scientists learn the secrets of the sun. (Apparently, that is when the ‘Science City’ moniker started when a reporter for the Maui News made the reference at the time of the dedication.)
In 1965, the Defense Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) constructed an observatory to be operated by the University of Michigan.
At that time the 60-inch (1.6 meter) reflector was one of the world’s 10 largest astronomical telescopes. Additionally, two 48-inch (1.2 meter) infrared telescopes were installed in an adjacent dome. One would be used for tracking missiles and the other for basic research.
Observatories are an ‘identified land use’ in the Conservation District pursuant to HAR §13-5-24, Identified Land Uses permitted in the Resource Subzone include, R-3 Astronomy Facilities, (D-1) Astronomy facilities under an approved management plan.
Science City has housed astronomical facilities since the early 1950s. Current observatories include the Mees Solar Observatory, the Zodiacal Observatory, Pan-STARRS, the Advanced Electro-Optical System, the Maui Space Surveillance Site, the Ground-based Electro-Optical Deep Space Surveillance (GEODSS), the Airglow Facility, the Neutron Monitor Station, and the Faulkes Telescope North. The Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope (DKIST) (formerly known as Advanced Technology Solar Telescope (ATST)) is under construction.
These facilities observe the sun, provide research time to students and educators worldwide, use lasers to measure the distances to satellites, track and catalogue manmade objects, track asteroids and other potential threats to Earth, and obtain detailed images of spacecraft.
This is the principal site for optical and infrared surveillance, inventory and tracking of space debris, and active laser illumination of objects launched into Earth orbit, all of which are crucial to the nation’s space program. (DLNR) (Lots of information here is from IfA.)