KEYSTONE HEIGHTS — Rescued a month before it was scheduled to be scrapped, a Hubble replica from the Houston NASA facility is now being bolted back together at an airport about 40 minutes from Gainesville.

The disassembled walls of a metal cylinder, about 6-feet high, stand alongside a Keystone Heights Airport landing strip. How the pieces got there is a story Robert Oehl enjoys telling.

Oehl, the director of Wings of Dreams Aviation Museum based at the airport, said the equipment was found outside of a NASA storage unit in Houston.

It was a full-scale model of the Hubble Space Telescope used to train astronauts for missions.

The museum’s co-founder, Susan King, proceeded to go through the steps to convince NASA to allow the museum to take the mock-up. Five months later, she was told the piece would be transferred to the museum if they could cover transportation and reassembly.

That’s when nearby Davis Express stepped in to help get it there.

King also wrote to NASA and received a fully funded grant to aid in the museum’s education outreach. According to Oehl, UF also donated a telescope for the museum’s newest program.

Getting the telescope mock-up and other pieces for the space exploration exhibit was a landmark, Oehl said, because NASA has never worked with an all-volunteer nonprofit organization before.

“There are certain people at NASA who look at us and call us the ‘mouse that roared’ because it’s the great underdog story of the little guy,” he said.

Although still disassembled, the mockup was opened for public viewing Friday. The way the mockup will be displayed is being discussed, but it will not be the focus of the collection of space program artifacts. It’s just one piece.

“I think that it’s just great that they have a vision and a dream to bring something of that magnitude to Keystone,” said Buck Burney, a local pilot.

The museum is in the planning stage of its new facility’s construction on the airport’s property.

The space exploration exhibit is one of the projects the museum and its board of volunteers is putting together.

It also has an expansive World War II collection. Oehl said the focus of the collection is on “highlighting actual people, specifically people that did really important things… the story of real heroes.”

“Our mission started out commemorating ‘the greatest generation,’ which is a term I use lightly,” Oehl said, “and the second movement was education, of course with the museum, and the third, the space program. Now what we need is funding and awareness to protect all of this.”

A version of this story ran on page 8 on 9/9/2013 under the headline "Keystone airport displays Hubble telescope replica"

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