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Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Biggest Hurdle

Yesterday I went out to the observatory with the telescope technician so he could teach me some of the basics of telescope maintenance. He is retiring at the end of the month, though will be working on a contract basis until the end of the year.

He has been looking after the observatory for the last 20-25 years. He knows everything there is about maintaining everything, but has pretty much nothing documented. It's tough to pass on knowledge when, for example, he "just knows" what's wrong when the dome makes a certain sound.

Even when things have been documented, it doesn't include everything the user would need to know. Because, of course, "the user" (i.e., him) has been using the telescope for 20-25 years and knows everything about it already.

Now, I'm not faulting him for any of this. No one really plans to be the last telescope technician ever. But, I can tell right now that this is going to be the biggest hurdle in terms of getting an education and outreach program up and running for the observatory. Because, of course, if the telescope doesn't work, then there's no use having any type of program, is there?

So, after the next open house (August 21st) I plan to get together with the head of the physics department, and hopefully the Dean of science, to discuss this and explore the options. Maybe we could continue to hire the technician on a contract basis (although, at some point, his knowledge really needs to be passed on to someone else), or we could get someone that's mechanically savvy to become a very part-time (0.5 days a week) technician.

Of course, we would need funding for either of these options, but if the department and faculty want this program to continue at all, hopefully they'll be willing to help out.