Looking to space, stars and beyond

As an unlimited tonnage ship captain (who uses astronomy on the job) and as a person who has sailed on the voyaging canoe Hokule‘a, I find the arguments against the Thirty Meter Telescope on the basis of damaging the sacred nature of the mountain as confusing, unfounded and perhaps anti-constitutional.

As a ship navigator for over 37 years I understand that the basis to modern astronomy and modern wayfinding skills taught at the Polynesian Voyaging Society have their roots and beginnings by the work of those sacred, ancient persons who viewed the heavens each evening.

These ancient astronomers made important and close observations of the heavens. Whether these astronomers of old were living in Europe or Hawaii they all viewed the very same stars and planets. They learned that the seasons were tied directly to the travels the sun made north and south bi-annually. They discovered the phase of our moon coincided with the highest and lowest tides of each month.

This information was sacred, as it provided guidance from above for humans to plant crops, to fish and continue to thrive and spread across the Pacific and Atlantic oceans until we now inhabit every corner of our planet.

Our current sciences have evolved and grown from religious views and practices. Currently it is each free person’s right to believe that a deity or none guides our individual fate. It is not a right of any person or persons to inflict and force their religious (or rejection of religious) beliefs on others lives, our government, or our institutions of education.

I am aware that the mountain was and is considered sacred. It is a fact that canoe-building tools and tools for other purposes were made from the raw materials from the mountain.

If the mountain was sacred in a kapu sense those tool-makers would not have been allowed on to the mountain to gather the blue stone used for their tools. The telescopes inhabiting the mountain currently (and those planned) are also tools, albeit complicated tools, used for the expansion of human knowledge, not simply to carve woods for sacred and other uses.

I would have to assume that the Hawaiian priests involved in the practice of astronomy would be guided by their higher intellect to make the journey to the summit of the mountain to obtain the clearest celestial observations and to expand their knowledge.

If even any of these ancient Hawaiian astronomers endured the trek up to the peak of the mountain to make astronomical observations, the argument that a tool of astronomy defiles the mountain loses its teeth.

One has to ask oneself, if you believe in the sacred nature of anything, such as life itself, regardless if you view the adjective “sared” be connected to God, gods, science or any other barometer, you might very well agree that the life that exists on our planet would qualify as sacred.

To preserve the life on planet Earth is a worthwhile and, perhaps, given the current argument, be defined as “sacred” in nature. Furthering any knowledge that would help to save Earth’s inhabitants from extinction would qualify as being sacred.

Even a superficial knowledge of astronomy explains the life cycle of heavenly stars. Our sun is a star. Its name is “Sol.” In Hawaiian the sun is “la.” In the distant future Sol will enter the red giant phase of its life. During this period the sun will begin to expand. Its surface will continue to inflate.

As it gets ever larger its surface will extend beyond the orbit of the planet Mercury. It will continue to grow and consume the next planet, Venus. The sun continues to grow and in approximately 7 billion years it will engulf Earth and our home will be consumed as a cinder.

Of course, many more-catastrophic events could cause life (human or animal) to be untenable at any time in the near or distant future. One thing is sure: Long before the sun becomes a red giant, in approximately 700 million years, our planet will be unable to support life.

At this time in our history we have begun testing the waters of space. Indeed this week 50 years ago one of our species set foot upon another world. We have waited a half-century to begin our return to these far shores as we plan a voyage to Mars. Mars is a much-needed stepping-stone to learn the “walking” lessons of further travel in our solar system, prior to “running” lessons in the very complex endeavor of interstellar travel.

Given the constant warlike and selfish designs humanity’s nations and human individuals process, it is far from a given that the lessons humankind requires in space will be learned prior to a catastrophe making space travel of any kind impossible.

Meteors striking the Earth again, a pandemic illness, radiation caused by war or nuclear meltdown of a power plant could all cause a burden that would curtail space exploration.

Even a relatively benign total collapse of our current society would make endeavors into space financially and logistically impossible. Our current easy life finds many individuals protesting privately or publicly, our tax dollars being earmarked for the exploration of space.

Simple politics could be the death knell of our species. Any and all roadblocks curtailing space travel are a dangerous link in the chain that humanity requires to survive. Well-meaning and wonderful protesters who simply want to protect a mountain from an apparent industrial construction could be the initial domino that spells the doom of humanity.

Personally, I think telescopes are beautiful and sacred. I remember an uncle of mine, when I was a boy of 6. On a clear night Uncle Ray set up his telescope for me and he showed me a far-off galaxy.

Not a star, but an entire galaxy. Since that evening I was hooked. I learned the constellations and the stars and later I became a navigator. A title I hold sacred in my heart. Far above my title of ship captain.

While the rest of us slumber at night, women and men spend their waking hours and careers searching the heavens alone and in the cold. They continue to search the vast reaches of space, learning more about our universe and always hoping to discover another unique and special planet, a planet like our Earth.

Astronomers have identified many planets beyond our solar system, but so far none that we can start the plan of voyage to. In order for us to locate a planet viable for humans (and any animal DNA we carry with us), to survive we must continue to search the heavens.

With tools such as the Thirty Meter Telescope we may find a place with oceans, with continents and islands, with an atmosphere, and like those intrepid explorers who bravely traveled the Pacific to colonize the vast beauty of Polynesia…we to may find a new home. A sacred shore far from our parent’s hale but holding their mana in our hearts and memories.

Stories will be told of those astronomers who first saw our new home in their delicate instruments. Perhaps the stories will describe the light of our new home passing through the lens of the Thirty Meter Telescope atop the sacred mountain of Mauna Kea. Our descendants would never forget the mountain and the islands we once called home. Hawaii.

If, in your heart the sacred efforts of ancient Hawaiian voyagers and astronomers doesn’t resonate with the efforts of our modern astronauts and astronomers as sacred for the children of the Earth, then perhaps we should cease to gaze upward on dark nights with wonder.

I for one shall always look to the stars as our finest challenge. A poignant but beautiful voyage fitting our people’s brave history.


Capt. Christopher W. Best, U.S. Merchant Marine (ret.), Ex-Naval Special Warfare officer (Seal), lives in Kalaheo.

  1. Charlie Chimknee August 3, 2019 12:03 am Reply

    Aloha Chris,

    And fast forwarding through the eons of time that it will take for the earthlings to abandon our space ship Earth, and head off to the outer planets in outer galaxies, for as you explain no where in the realm of our Mother Sun will it be safe for life…due to the inevitable evolution of our Sun…when it comes time for departure and there are more than billions of us on earth in need of relocating…just whom will be chosen…to escape to an other world…will it be by race, religion, knowledge, advance warning, word of mouth, lottery, expensive tickets…and will it look like the last Vietnam citizens fighting for the last seats on the helicopters departing the roof level of the American Embassy in Saigon, or some such other building.

    Who will have to remain behind for the takeover by the expanding sun…as you put it…700 million years from now…700 million years we then thus have time to think about it…Kauai and the Hawaiian High Islands are only 5 million years old, and a primary thought is…isn’t it a little premature to prepare and plan an escape from earth for a need 700 million years in the future?

    As to the very real stinking rotten filthy reckless poisoning of the air, water, and land by for the most part by Petrochemical Pollution of every kind and rui-nation and dressed up as a Red Herring and clandestinely and underratedly merely referred to as GLOBAL WARMING…just another advertising ploy to downsize the immensity and inevitability of “modern” man and woman kinds filthy treatment of (Mother) Nature, the INTELLIGENCE of the Universe’s Organizational Representative on our Blue and Green Planet.

    My brother Chris, what great personal achievement you have made, but don’t you think it is a little too soon to be scouring the Universes for a place to run to, and in your nautical terms, “ABANDON SHIP”…our highly organized space planet, traveling in the Creative Intelligence’s grand design…

    Instead of looking outward to leave Earth, we still have time to return to the “fold” and use our collective boney helmeted think tanks to dial back the poisoning worldwide, and allow the new and future beings to enjoy Earth, living in a way compatible with Nature again as it was before Petrochemicals, in spite of our modern future human numbers.

    Besides if we find the next place it may already be inhabited by other beings, beings dressed in black pajamas, woven plant based slippers and conical hats, whose deceptive natural and meek appearance may be the Wolf in Sheep’s clothing and drive the trespassing Earthlings off, away from what we thought may be our next planetary home, and film us too fighting to board the last space ships out.

    CHRIS my brother, our ancient but not long ago seafaring astronomers while studying the stars…were not using them to leave Earth, but to find the next uncrowded place, uncrowded of people, or stale ideas and ways, or religious beliefs, or lack of diversity or food for thought or sustenance…as you yourself are saying on the opposite side of your statements, we are 700 million years too early to plan an escape…and at the same time not too late to Un-Poison the Earth, to use the collective minds of the wisened elders solving the future for earthly cleansing with the brilliant minds of today’s and tomorrow’s youth.

    Perhaps the most difficult thing for mankind to get over will be the concept and tactic of GREED…GETTING A LOT FOR A LITTLE, USING THE BACKS OF THE UNDERPAID.

    It is time to look inwards for our HEALTHY AND SUSTAINABLE future…not cut and run from it…in 700 million years Earth may well have to face the inevitable as all Earthly life must when the span of a life time is up. Time will come to an end for our Solar System; and we like the bacteria on a fruit past ripening, we too will come to an end as microbes of life on the back of the Earth.

    In the meantime, Mau Piailug never taught the youth of Satawal in the Caroline’s to learn the stars to leave earth, but to get around on it, to go forth to gather food on other island and atolls, to let the stars, and the waves, and birds an sea life guide them outward but always to return.

    Both Mau and Nainoa Thompson steered that very return…back to Marquesas and Tahiti…it is your responsibility with the knowledge you have accumulated to use it to educate and steer youth to go along the Earth’s surface and always to return to Island, Home, and Family.

    And you will have satisfied your time here.

  2. Kauaidoug August 3, 2019 8:38 am Reply

    Caption Best. Thank you for that thoughtful and well written letter. The TMT carries on the the best traditions of the ancient Hawaiian explorers. This telescope will lead to discoveries we cannot even imagine like the Polynesians or Galileo. Please take 5 minutes to let Gov Ige know you support this monumental project.

  3. ARF August 4, 2019 4:21 am Reply

    I met a traveler from an antique land
    Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
    Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand
    Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
    And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
    Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
    Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
    The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed;
    And on the pedestal these words appear:
    My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
    Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
    Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
    Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
    The lone and level sands stretch far away.
    —What a beautiful effort Charlie!

  4. Denine Dawson August 5, 2019 9:09 am Reply

    Thank you for this beautiful opinion piece. It is strange that it has come to this in an area with such deep ancient connections to astronomy. YOu are very brave to express this unpopular and much needed sentiment.

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