SARA control Room!

FIU is a member of the Southeastern Association for Research in Astronomy (SARA) consortium which consists of ten universities that together operate research telescopes at Kitt Peak National Observatory (KPNO) in Arizona, and at Cerro Tololo Interamerican Observatory (CTIO) in Chile. Both of these telescopes are operated remotely during some nights using control computers at FIU. The SARA Control room will house computers equipped to control both instruments as well as the local telescope in the dome atop the Stocker AstroScence Center, the FIU telescope. Dr. Webb’s investigation into the most efficient layout for control rooms led to a particularly efficient arrangement that opened up a unique stylistic opportunity. The most efficient arrangement for the circular SARA control room would be a layout that features stations for control of each telescope facing a main large screen monitor. On the wall opposite the entrance, the large screen monitor will be able to display any of the images from the three telescopes (KPNO,CTIO, FIU). Weather monitors for all three observatories will be prominently displayed on smaller screens mounted on either side of the main screen so observers can constantly monitor the weather conditions at all three locations at a glance. Students who will be controlling the telescopes will occupy a semicircular desk facing the large monitor, each operator having two screens: one for telescope control and the other for camera control. Behind the telescope controllers will be a station for the principle Investigator (PI). From here the astronomer in charge of the night will sit and monitor the activities of all of the telescopes. The PI computer would have the ability to see any of the telescope screens, as well as project any of the monitors up on the large screen. Around the sides will be two computer stations where students can analyze and print the data.

Starship Control Room

Now for the unique opportunity made possible by this arrangement! It was noticed that this room, because of the circular shape and the arrangement of users and computers described above, strongly resembled the bridge of the USS Enterprise on the popular TV series Star Trek! The very nature of the observations made here imply traveling to the edges of the visible universe. It is a small step to further the analogy and intentionally design the room to resemble more closely a Star Trek Starship bridge. There would be no props or flashing light for effect, just an efficiently functioning astronomical control room modeled after one of our favorite science fiction places, the bridge of a star ship! I doubt if a cooler place exists on the planet Earth!

Below are some photographs of the scale model built by designer Frank Blanco of the Avenue B Group of the proposed Stocker Astroscience control room. This is not a finished item, jsut a proposed model. But a great one!

The central 75" monitor can display any of the computer screens in the room, and its output can be displayed in the lab room on the first floor. The 4 40" monitors on either side of the main screen shows the environmental screens for Kitt Peak (SARA North)(left) and Cerro Tololo (Sara South) (right).

The computer screens on the console are the actual screens telescope operators will be using to control the SARA North (left) and SARA South (right) telescopes. This view shows the data storage and reduction consoles on the left station and the local telescope control screens on the right console. The large console at the bottom of the screen is the Principal investigators station (Captain). This console can control any of the other displays and choose to put them on the main console if problems arise.

Control Room

Dr. Webb is shown in the control room in a surround picture taken by Fernanda Foetter.

Control Room with Dr. Webb, courtesy of Fernanda Foetter