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The Project Manager's Corner: Exploring TMT in Chile
Gary Sanders, TMT Project Manager

May/June 2007

I have written several times in this column about our campaign to evaluate and select the site for TMT. (Focus On... Site Testing, My Summer Vacation in February, PM Corner, Looking Up). I have described visits to Hawaii and to Chile. These articles included travelogues, meetings with officials, descriptions of scientific tests of the quality of "seeing", and discussions of the ceremonial importance to local communities of some of the mountains contemplated by TMT.

On a trip in June, several of us visited Chile to meet with local officials, leaders in the astronomy and university communities and business leaders. In fact, our visit was noticed and was referred to several times in the Chilean media, television and print press (La Segunda, LA TERCERA). Why did we get such attention?

TMT is big. TMT promises great scientific reach. Science is exciting. So TMT is considered newsworthy. But a look at the coverage in Chile shows that it is more than the intrinsic excitement of TMT that motivates attention. The possibility that TMT could be constructed in Chile is exciting as a matter of national and community pride. This is true in any country. TMT would be a major capital asset with a lifecycle that might be a century. It would be an exciting and dramatic landmark. It is even more exciting in a nation like Chile that is developing fast and that has a sense of transformation and progress in daily life. The excitement of a developing nation begets excitement. New icons of progress are appreciated as milestones. I am personally excited by all of this.

One noteworthy meeting was at an organization called SOFOFA, a Chilean trade and industry federation. The occasion brought together industry and trade leaders with leaders from three large astronomy projects in Chile. The projects included the radio astronomy project Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) under construction in Chile, the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) awaiting construction funding but announced as selecting Chile for its site, and TMT described in Chile as considering Chile with a decision in 2008. At this meeting, the projects were described and images of actual or planned construction were displayed and business opportunities and future economic impacts in Chile were described.

This meeting raised awareness and was a very helpful of exchange between the business and astronomy communities. Everyone knows that copper is a major natural resource in Chile, driving their economy. Another major natural resource is clear skies excellent for astronomy. Government, education and commercial sectors in Chile are aware of this resource and are approaching it just as any national asset should be approached. At the SOFOFA meeting, the great science promise of these projects was appreciated. This was discussed openly. But everyone in the room was aware that astronomy projects bring excitement to communities and educational, cultural, technology base and economic benefits. Our challenge is to accomplish our science goals and give due attention to the other benefits to the communities that we will join.

I have written in the past about TMT engagement with indigenous communities in Chile (Looking Up). Our encounter this time was with government, education and business. If TMT is implemented in Chile, we will have to take up the challenge of translating our scientific excitement into real membership in these communities.

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