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Robert N. Shelton’s first month at GMTO

Robert Jade and Nune meet

Robert Shelton in discussions with the Project Controls team. Jade Dhatchayangkul (left) and Nune Boyadjian (right).

Since joining the Giant Magellan Telescope project as President a month ago I’ve become even more impressed by the project than I was before.

My initial four weeks at GMTO involved extensive conversations, meetings and opportunities to learn from our Board of Directors, an external review council, and tens of talented members of the GMTO staff. My first week focused on the meeting of the GMTO Board of Directors in Pasadena. In my second week, I met with staff across the office – from the project engineers to finance to human resources. During my third week, we hosted the external Project Management Advisory Council, which provided a comprehensive overview of the project status and candid feedback on our achievements and risks. This week I have had the opportunity to participate in a meeting of the Science Advisory Committee at our offices in Pasadena. I was pleased to have such a well-rounded introduction to the project in my first month.

But it was not all work. Two weeks ago, GMTO held a party to celebrate the release of the Request for Proposals for the Telescope Mount. I learned the significance of this milestone for the project and was amazed at the long list of people the GMTO Director, Patrick McCarthy, thanked for bringing this multi-year design effort to bid.

It is clear from my first month that the project is executing a well-designed plan to deliver a unique astronomical observatory. My task as President is to raise the rest of the funding we need to bring the project to first light and beyond. For the next few months, I will be traveling to our Founder institutions and holding meetings with key leadership, and I will be talking to institutions and individuals who want to be a part of this historic endeavor.

In learning about this project, I have begun to understand that we face the tantalizing prospect of finding evidence for life on other planets, if in only its most primitive stages, within our lifetimes. With the GMT, we hope to discover not only the answer to the question “are we alone”, but also to answer questions no one has yet thought to ask. The GMT is scheduled to be the first extremely large telescope on the sky, and this will give us unique opportunities for early discoveries. I am eager to see what the future holds.

—Robert N. Shelton