Puerto Rico Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced Signs Executive Order Establishing Reconstruction of Arecibo Observatory as Public Policy

Damage sustained at the Arecibo Observatory 305-meter telescope. (Credit: UCF)

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico, December 28, 2020 — Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced today signed an Executive Order to establish as public policy the reconstruction of the Arecibo Observatory radio telescope so that it resurfaces as a world-class educational center.

“We all remember when on the morning of December 1, we heard the tragic news when the radio telescope platform fell. For 57 years, this world-renowned facility functioned as a research facility capable of scientific discovery and contributions to national security, scientific research, education, as well as a tourist attraction. The government of Puerto Rico is convinced that the collapse of the radio telescope brings an opportunity to redesign it, taking into consideration the lessons learned and the recommendations of the scientific community to make it relevant for decades. That it can be rebuilt and can once again be a world-class center for future generations, ”said the governor.

The Executive Order establishes a budget allocation of $8 million for reconstruction efforts, from surpluses from previous years. They would be for the remedy of environmental damage with the removal and safe disposal of the affected material, which has already begun under the supervision of the National Science Foundation (NSF, for its acronym in English).

“Recognizing the cultural, scientific and social values ​​of the Observatory for the people of Puerto Rico and humanity, the Puerto Rico Planning Board designated the area as a historic zone. We understand that both the state and the federal government and the private sector will help with the design, construction and eventual operation, ”added Vázquez Garced.

The meteorologist and president of the Board of Directors, Ada Monzón, thanked the governor “immensely” “for listening to our request to rebuild the Observatory.”

“We have to give importance to spaces and projects that create knowledge and economic development, that distinguish us internationally and inspire and motivate our children and young people in STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering and mathematics, for its acronym in English). We are protecting the future of Puerto Rico, ”Monzón said.

Dr. Gerardo Morell, director of the NASA Puerto Rico Space Grant Consortium and professor of physics at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) in Río Piedras, thanked “everyone who is participating in the efforts to build a new observatory, to the that the governor becomes part of this government public policy in order to create a modern observatory capable of bringing new scientific discoveries from Puerto Rico, in addition to creating an educational space for our young people and a tourist attraction for the economic growth of the area from Arecibo and from all over Puerto Rico ”.

“This is part of the efforts that are being carried out organically throughout Puerto Rico and with collaborators from the United States that resulted in the document sent to Congress with more than 100,000 signatures. It was something spontaneous of all the people who support this effort, and now this official government effort is joined with this public policy that will make it easier for that claim that was made to crystallize in a design that eventually results in the construction of a new an observatory even better than the one we had before, ”Morell added.

The director of the Arecibo Observatory, Eng. Francisco Córdova, stressed that the Observatory “has been an icon of science for more than 57 years,” and that in that process it won a Nobel Prize, in addition to being a cultural and tourist icon.

“We have to rebuild because we lack an instrument like the one we had in the world of science to be able to continue making the advances that are so important to us as humanity. We are happy to see that the governor is present and that she says, we want to start this process, ”added Córdova.

The rector of the Ana G. Méndez University of the Cupey Campus and science professor, Carlos Padín, indicated: “This public policy will be the push that is needed to make the new project of the new Arecibo Observatory a reality. Thanks to the people of Puerto Rico for supporting us in this effort. This is a project that, on the educational side, is extraordinary. Here more than 400 doctorates have been trained in atmospheric sciences and space sciences, master’s and baccalaureate degrees have been obtained here. But the most important thing is to see those young people when they arrive there and see that structure, that moment that was extraordinary and they said, science is a possibility. Science is something I want to study. We need more people studying science, what we need is to have the opportunity. And the Observatory became that,

For his part, the director of the Arecibo Observatory Space Academy, Luis Fernanda Zambrano, said: “This is a legacy that will not happen in the short term, it will be in the long term that will leave an impact on history and future generations. from Puerto Rico. Thanks to the scientists who support the Observatory and the government for putting the word into action. Thank you on behalf of future generations who are going to benefit ”.

The executive director of the State Office for Historic Conservation, Carlos Rubio Cancela, indicated: “For me, this moment is important and of great joy because here not only is an executive order signed, but the necessary funds are provided for this great project of the reconstruction of the Observatory. I think it is important and it is a commitment that the governor made before us a month ago and today it is a reality. We close the year with joy and hope because this historic resource represents a new opportunity for the scientific community and for the people of Puerto Rico ”.

On November 28, the first executive issued a letter to the director of the NSF, Sethuraman Panchanathan, asking them to reconsider the decision to seize the radio telescope at the Arecibo Observatory. But on December 1, it collapsed.

The Arecibo Observatory was built in the late 1950s, early 1960s. Since then, Puerto Rico, the NSF and the scientific community have collaborated successfully for the operation of the facility, being an emblematic place in modern history. from Puerto Rico.