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ROBINSON HISTORY | A look at 1994’s ‘Mirror, Mirror on the Crawl’


The twin Subaru Telescopes atop Mt. Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawaii.

-ROBINSON TOWNSHIP HISTORICAL SOCIETY-


By Janet Gonter


If you were in Pittsburgh in August 1994, you might remember all the fuss about a giant telescope mirror being transported along area highways on its way to faraway places. One of the many locales it passed through was Robinson Township. But why all the fuss?


The 27-foot mirror, housed in a 32-foot wide box weighing 24 tons, was being transported on an imposing flatbed truck with 18 axels and 50 tires. Along with 12 accompanying vehicles, on Aug. 11 it had begun its turtle-paced journey from New York’s Corning Glass Plant, where the huge mirror had been fabricated, to Wampum, Pennsylvania for further grinding, a journey of 244 miles as the crow flies. After traversing the St. Lawrence River, Lake Ontario, and the Welland Canal on a barge, the mirror arrived at Port Erie, Pennsylvania. On Aug. 24, it began its slow crawl south on Interstate 79 before heading north again. After spending the night at a rest area in Cranberry Township under tight security, it continued south on I-79 to Bridgeville, the safest place to turn it around.

The giant mirror proceeds south on Interstate 79 through Robinson in 1994.

In Robinson Township, the caravan proceeded along I-79 and Route 60 before traveling via Routes 51, 251, and 18 to its destination in Wampum, some 40 miles north of Pittsburgh. Many area residents, including Ray Phillips of the Robinson Township Historical Society, snapped pictures of the caravan as it passed, but some were not thrilled with the seemingly endless traffic tie-ups. Families heading north for end-of-summer vacations were forced to sit in the August heat for hours. But for many, the unusual sight was a bit of a thrill.


In an underground mine in Wampum, the mirror underwent three years of grinding and polishing by Contraves, Inc. until at last, it resumed its four-year journey.


In September 1998, a huge crane hoisted the boxed mirror onto a barge for its longest and final trip, passing through New Orleans and the Panama Canal, and on across the Pacific to its final destination: Hawaii.


Today, the mirror resides in one of a pair of Japanese Subaru telescopes at Mauna Kea, believed to be among the largest telescopes in the world. The two sit side-by-side atop the 14,000-foot mountain, where they continue to be used by astronomers from all over the world.

Now we know what all the fuss was about


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