Dr. Rita R. Colwell
National Science Foundation
Dedication of Gemini South Telescope at Las Campanas
La Serena, Chile
January 18, 2002
Good afternoon to everyone. I would like to extend
a special greeting to President Lagos. We are very
honored that you have joined us at this dedication.
Your presence testifies eloquently to Chile's pursuit
of excellence in astronomy. I would also like to acknowledge
the presence of past President Alewynn. It is an honor
to be here with you.
We are also pleased to be welcomed by the governor...and
by Madam Mayor. Mr. Ambassador, it is a pleasure to
have you with us today as well, and all our other
Today's inauguration has special significance for astronomy
in our host country, Chile. The excellent natural
observing conditions here have attracted astronomers
from all over the world, but the Gemini Telescopes
Project is the first that Chile has joined
as a partner.
As we have heard from President Lagos, Chile's tradition
in astronomy dates back a century and a half. As he
stated, we can also trace U.S.-Chilean cooperation
back that far, to the U.S. expedition to Santiago,
which sought to determine the distance to the sun.
Looking toward the future, we commend Chile for having
chosen to develop its expertise in astronomy, and
the U.S. National Science Foundation is honored to
be part of that endeavor.
Today, a dream is made tangible as Gemini South, long
an idea, stands as a solid edifice.
Our astronomical partnership between north and south
has already begun to spawn discoveries. Gemini North
has just made headlines, with the news that it is
on the verge of being able to directly image planets
orbiting other suns.
Now with the southern twin come to life, the Gemini
Observatory truly becomes more than the sum of its
But this observatory also inspires us as a symbol.
First of all, it is a monument to a universal and
age-old human aspiration--our desire to explore. As
Plato tells us, "Astronomy compels the soul to
look upwards and leads us from this world to another."
We dare to hope--in an age of scientific splendor that
is as much an age of uncertainty and upheaval--that
astronomy and all of science and engineering will
lead us to new worlds and beyond.
We also hope that the international cooperation culminating
in this gleaming dome will catalyze the partnerships
among our nations, especially in coming generations.
Now, more than ever, we need these efforts that transcend
national borders and cultural divides.
Science and engineering have always flourished across
national borders, but today's global scale of research
is unprecedented. New ideas and new discoveries emerge
regularly around the world.
In the United States, we are eager to engage our younger
generation of scientists and engineers in forming
closer bonds throughout the world via research and
education. Indeed, international partnerships may
be the only way to fund cutting-edge facilities too
costly for any single nation.
Many disciplines require access to sites in other nations--astronomy
is a case in point. A number of other scientific questions
are themselves global in scope.
On a personal note, let me share a few observations.
In my speeches in the U.S. and abroad, I refer to
the National Science Foundation as an extraordinary
agency with extraordinary people on staff. Mr. Mitchell
Daniels, the chief budget officer for the President
of the United States and Director of the U.S. Office
of Management and Budget, in a speech three weeks
ago at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.,
spoke of NSF as the best managed agency in the U.S.
I would like to say here that we have extraordinary
international agency partners with extraordinary international
staff. AND clearly one of the best managed
international scientific facilities in the world!
On this mountaintop, I repeat the words of philosopher
Bertrand Russell with a special emotion.
He wrote that "The universe is full of magical things
patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper."
Some of these magical unknowns await discovery through
the sharper vision enabled by the mirrors, lenses,
detectors, and information technology of the Gemini
Still other discoveries await our nurturing of a world
community that shares a commitment to the open pursuit
I will close on a celebratory note with a brief story
about another beginning--the discovery of a beverage
associated with celebration and inauguration.
Folklore is that champagne was discovered by
accident when the monk, Dom Perignon, tasted a bottle
of wine that had refermented. The monk is said
to have shouted to his fellow monks, "Come quickly,
I am tasting the stars!"
Our seven nations join here today to taste the stars
and to explore the universe. And this is only the