HPA senior starts pro-TMT petition

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As protests against the Thirty Meter Telescope continue, a Hawaii Preparatory Academy senior recently started her own online petition to offer support for the $1.4 billion project.

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As protests against the Thirty Meter Telescope continue, a Hawaii Preparatory Academy senior recently started her own online petition to offer support for the $1.4 billion project.

Mailani Neal, an aspiring astronomer, said she wanted to help show the other side of the story as those who oppose building the 180-foot-tall observatory on Mauna Kea receive a groundswell of support from celebrities and others through social media.

“I just hope it shows to the people who run TMT that there is support for them,” said Neal, 18. “I would think that, if I was in their position, I would be quite intimidated by the opposing force.”

The petition was launched Monday at www.gopetition.com. It had received more than 950 signatures as of Wednesday afternoon.

She might have a lot of catching up to do. One anti-TMT petition has gained more than 40,000 signatures.

“I don’t really think that this is a battle of who can get a higher number,” Neal said. “I don’t want there to be a fight over this. I want there to be communication.”

She said she plans to study applied physics with a concentration in space science at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, and wants to someday return to Hawaii Island to practice astronomy.

Neal said she was first introduced to astronomy as a student at Kamehameha Schools on Oahu, where she learned how Hawaiians used their knowledge of the stars to cover great distances across the Pacific Ocean.

But the moment she was truly inspired by the universe came when she was stargazing with her family on Mauna Kea on Christmas when she was about 10 years old.

“I say that it probably was the most important moment of my life,” Neal said. “I never felt anything like it.”

She said she supports TMT because she says those working on the project have tried to be a good partner with the community. Neal said the TMTs’ THINK fund, which provides educational grants and scholarships on Hawaii Island, also will help future generations of students.

Still, the protesters, who are mostly Native Hawaiian, say there shouldn’t be further development on a mountain that is considered sacred. Many want the existing 13 telescopes removed, and demonstrations have attracted dozens, and in some cases hundreds, of opponents during the past few weeks.

Attempts at blocking construction crews also have led to 31 arrests.

“I am Hawaiian. I know how it feels,” Neal said. “It’s kind of a sad truth that so many sacred places have already been desecrated.”

But she said she doesn’t see TMT, which will allow astronomers to see more than 13 billion light years away, as being a desecration. Rather, Neal said she sees it as something beautiful and worth celebrating.

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“Why not put this monumental telescope that’s going to be a worldwide honor in Hawaii?” she asked. “I think it’s one of the greatest ways to raise Hawaiian culture and show it to the world.”

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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