• The Star Staff

Governor asks for reconsideration of Arecibo Observatory closure

By John McPhaul


Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced sent a letter to the director of the National Science Foundation (NSF), Sethuraman Panchanathan, requesting reconsideration of the decision announced last week to close the Arecibo Observatory.

The NSF had indicated that it recently decided to close the famous radio telescope due to structural failures in two cables that support the platform of one of the towers.

In her letter, the governor notes that since the Arecibo Observatory was built in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Puerto Rico, the NSF and the scientific community have collaborated successfully in the operation of the facility. It also highlights that it is an emblematic place in the modern history of Puerto Rico.

“As you are aware, the economy of Puerto Rico has suffered enormous challenges in recent years due to the fiscal crisis, hurricanes, earthquakes and, more recently, the COVID-19 pandemic. The Arecibo Observatory has represented significant scientific relevance, both for research and for academic purposes, so it is critical to keep this facility operational, it being the largest radio telescope in the world,” the governor said in the letter.

“The tourism industry is one of our primary sources of economic development. Having been impacted by all the incidents of nature, it is important to note that the observatory for decades has been one of our main attractions for tourists worldwide,” Vázquez added. “The closure of the [telescope], followed by the abandonment and lack of interest of the sponsoring agencies, would have serious consequences for our local economy.

“I understand the concerns expressed with the safety of the Observatory staff and construction employees. However, I am confident in the collaborative effort to provide viable safety and economic solutions that allow the facility to be restored and returned to its traditional scientific and cultural value.”

Vázquez said decommissioning the facility is a complicated task, considering the environmental, cultural and historical requirements that must be taken into account when doing so, in addition the cost of controlled demolition that would have to be done, and would be similar to the cost to modernize it.

“We must consider a positive option instead of abandoning the facility,” the governor said in her letter. “Other options could include security-related initiatives, such as monitoring asteroids and other space activity. Take into consideration that Puerto Rico has the human and natural resources to maintain and promote the relationship with the scientific community [as it has done for ] all these years.

“I look forward to exploring options with you to keep the Arecibo Observatory open for the benefit of science, the United States, and the people of Puerto Rico.”

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