In 1904, workers installed the first telescope at the still uncompleted Mt. Wilson Observatory. For much of the 20th century, astronomers with names like Hale and Hubble used it and the new telescopes it sprouted – the 100-inch reflector and three solar telescopes followed the initial 60-incher – as a figurative launch pad for exploration that changed our understanding of the cosmos.

Gradually, though, financial support waned along with the observatory’s cutting-edge status, and for the last 20 years its telescopes, still impressive by any standard, rely on the kind attention of a small volunteer team of retired space industry electrical engineers, most now in their 70s and 80s.