My Experiences at the HET
Working at the Hobby-Eberly Telescope (HET) was one of the high points of my career in optics, and a time I will never forget! I was employed as the On-site Optical Engineer for the HET scope from about August 2001 until March 2003. From the very start, it was an unusual experience.
The person who hired me for this Optical Engineer position resigned and left the site shortly after I began work. That was unfortunate, since I was looking forward to reporting to that individual, as my supervisor. But it worked out that I continued reporting to the on-site Director of McDonald, so it would prove to be a pleasant and satisfactory arrangement.
I had worked at multiple observatories in Hawaii (Island of Maui) and also for the U. of H. Institute for Astronomy (I fA), so working for another university was not an issue. The HET Observatory and its telescope were the largest facility and telescope equipment with which I had ever been associated, (optical scope that is, since I had also worked at the NRAO, which has extremely large radio telescopes!) I knew the HET was going to be an interesting challenge.
During my time there, I had the opportunity to help with the care and feeding of the HET, from tasks as mundane as sweeping dust off the concrete ring wall on which the HET scope rides on air bearings, to cleaning the mirror segments with CO2 snow. Also, these tasks included technical matters such as measuring the reflectivity of the mirror coatings, making adjustments to mechanical equipment, helping work on detectors, and occasionally helping other guys to remove one of the mirror segments from the primary mirror array, when a mirror needed special attention. My least favorite jobs were: (a.) climbing around on the truss in order to inspect or remove a mirror segment, and (b.) climbing up and down the CCAS tower outside, which was 90 feet to the top. But these were also parts of the job.
All in all, I liked the work at the HET very much and will never regret having had this opportunity to work with the HET. The HET is an amazing telescope for astronomical research; it facilitates the pursuit of spectroscopy on a level which is hard to equal. It just does what it was intended to do! Best of all, the people at the HET and at McDonald in general, were the greatest bunch of folks, and consequently were a joy to work with as associates! A nicer group of folks you will not find, not easily. My favorite visual observing scope was the 82 inch, which has exquisite optics for imagery. We got to use this scope several times, which was a real treat!
My wife and I lived on-site in one of the University houses which are on the McDonald Observatory property. We both loved that experience. Deer, javalina, foxes, humming birds, etc. would visit our patio and yard all the time, and we never tired of watching and interfacing with the wild life at McDonald. My wife worked at the Visitor's Center, and she enjoyed that as much as I liked working at HET. More nice people were her associates, at the the Center.
McDonald Observatory will always be a place I remember with warm feelings. It was a great learning opportunity, a good part of my optical career, and a wonderful place to live and share our lives with our fellow employees at the site. Thanks for all the good times, and keep up the great work in professional astronomy!