Chile is on the brink of reclaiming its status as a full partner in a United States–led consortium to build twin, 8-meter telescopes in Hawaii and Chile. A holdup in a promised Chilean contribution had caused organizers of the project, called Gemini, to approach Australia for funds to avoid construction delays for the Chilean telescope, targeted for completion in 2000. Chilean legislators now have approved their country's contribution, however. "We're very happy that legislators have recognized the importance of this project to Chile," says José Maze, an astronomer at the University of Chile, in Santiago.
On Wednesday, legislators in the Chamber of Deputies passed a bill that would enable Chile to meet the payment schedule set by the Associated Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA), which manages the $184 million project. The United States is contributing half of Gemini's total cost, with the United Kingdom paying 25%, Canada 15%, and Brazil and Argentina chipping in 2.5% each.
Chile was supposed to put up the remaining 5% of the construction costs, but payments had been frozen pending the resolution of a 3-year battle over the project's legal status and rules governing all scientific facilities on Chilean soil. The final bill, already approved by the legislature's upper house, also removes language in an earlier version passed by the deputies that would have removed diplomatic status for Gemini employees--a rank enjoyed by those at existing facilities in Chile operated by AURA and the European Southern Observatory.
"It looks like they will meet the 1 September deadline after all," says AURA's Richard Mallow, referring to the date set by the consortium for Chile to come back into the fold (Science, 8 August, p. 758 ). The next step is the Chilean president's signature, expected today, followed by publication of the law sometime next week and a $3.5 million check to cover Chile's payments for the past 3 years.