Model-makers' work re-creates the Hubble

Half-size replica is destined for Museum of Flight in Seattle

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter



Did you know?

• Locking the Hubble telescope onto a celestial target is like holding a laser light steady on a dime that is 400 miles away.

• The Hubble telescope was launched aboard the Discovery space shuttle on April 24, 1990.


photoMatt Kilwein, a model maker at Masterpiece Models, installs straps Wednesday June 6, 2012. Model makers are working on building a half-scale replica of Hubble Telescope for the Museum of Flight in Seattle. (Troy Wayrynen/The Columbian)

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photoRobert Willard, a model-maker at Masterpiece Models, works inside a cardboard sonotube Wednesday.

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photoEd Warmack, left, and John Geigle, owner of Masterpiece Models, check the fitting of a part Wednesday June 6, 2012. Model makers are working on building a half-scale replica of Hubble Telescope for the Museum of Flight in Seattle. (Troy Wayrynen/The Columbian)

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photoA magazine with a photograph of the real Hubble Space Telescope sits on a workbench for reference at Masterpiece Models. The company is working on a half-scale replica for the Museum of Flight in Seattle.

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The Hubble Space Telescope has given us some amazing views of the universe, but not many people get to view the telescope itself.

It's orbiting Earth at an altitude of about 380 miles, after all, moving along at 17,500 mph.

Now several Vancouver model-makers are working on a pretty good substitute.

Fabricators at Masterpiece Models are finishing a half-scale replica of the orbiting telescope for the Museum of Flight in Seattle. It will be displayed in a new space gallery, with a space-shuttle trainer the Museum of Flight is getting from NASA.

Even though it's half the size of the orbiting space telescope, the replica is one the biggest things his team has done, said John Geigle, owner of Masterpiece Models. It's 211/2 feet long, and the widest portion is about 7 feet in diameter.

Once it's on display, museum-goers who give it a casual glance might think it's a full-scale copy, said model-maker Bob Willard. So, another shop is sculpting a 3-foot-tall astronaut, who will be displayed doing some space-walk maintenance work on the Hubble replica.

"That will show the actual scale," Willard said.

Even at half-scale, the model Hubble's antennas are so long that there isn't room to install them in the shop, Willard said.

The Hubble project was a little easier than some of the things Masterpiece has done. Earlier projects have focused on military items -- like a nuclear submarine -- or other high-tech hardware that involved restricted information.

On the Hubble project, the designers had actual measurements to work with.

"We got nice dimensions off the Internet. That was a shocker," Geigle said. "We never get those."

Masterpiece Models has already done one item for the Museum of Flight -- a replica of a toilet on a NASA space shuttle. (It's a copy of the model that was built earlier for the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center.)

The toilet mock-up is in storage, waiting for the new space gallery to open, said Chris Mailander, director of exhibits at the Museum of Flight. The exhibition site will be named the Charles Simonyi Space Gallery. Simonyi is a Microsoft billionaire who spent $60 million to take two trips to the International Space Station.

The centerpiece of the gallery will be the space-shuttle trainer. It's dubbed a "full-fuselage" trainer: a full-scale mock-up with almost everything the actual shuttles have except wings.

The trainer, built in the 1970s, is being transported in sections from the Johnson Space Center in Houston. The crew compartment is scheduled to arrive June 30. Other trainer sections will be delivered in August.

The timetable for the gallery opening also is a work in progress, Mailander said.

"We're shooting now to have the shuttle trainer fully assembled by the third week of September," Mailander said.

Then, additional work in the exhibit area will remain to be done.

The space gallery's opening is tentatively scheduled for early October, "but we're hoping to beat that," Mailander said.

Tom Vogt: 360-735-4558;;