Surrounded in beautiful, dense, green jungle is a mammoth, out-of-this-world structure.

  • Repairs continue Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico
  • Built in 1950s, it was originally built for DOD missile defense
  • Team from UCF has taken over management of famed facility
  • JUMP TO VIDEO: Arecibo Observatory in 360 degrees

Visitors approaching the world-famous Arecibo Observatory are greeted with "no cell phone" signs peppered along the road.

The observatory has been featured in movies such as "Contact" and "GoldenEye." (Pierce Brosnan, who played James Bond in the movie, was reportedly scared of heights as he filmed scenes on the hanging catwalk.)

But "built in the early '50s, (it was) originally built for missile defense as part of the Department of Defense program," says Francisco Cordova, who has been director of the observatory for almost two years.

He says the observatory — with its iconic, massive dish that looks like an upside-down umbrella in the ground — was built in Puerto Rico because of the island's location in helping to track missiles.

Not only that — it was strategically placed where it is on the island because it fit in a natural sinkhole.

The giant dish, or reflector, tracks asteroids for NASA.

“Right now, here at Arecibo, that data is specifically provided to NASA as part of the NASA NEO program," Cordova says.

Suspended in midair is the dome. It looks small, but it's actually about six stories high. Next to it is the antenna, an arm-like structure. Men on the hanging catwalk were performing repairs.

Once about 100 feet long, the metal antenna was chopped off by Hurricane Maria's 130 mph winds. Remnants of the antenna were on the ground below.

Surprisingly, Arecibo was back in service a few days after Maria, thanks to a backup antenna.

But do they have a backup for the backup?

“We do, and it's up and running, and of course now we have an opportunity to build something new," Cordova said.

During our visit, a sign was being erected at the facility, commemorating that a University of Central Florida team has taken over everyday operations at the observatory. The work that UCF is doing at the observatory is supporting other scientists and helping process data around the world.

“We are using some of our UCF funds to be able to fund research from our scientist here,” he said.

Cordova is very excited about the future.

“So, we really do a job of protecting planet Earth,” Cordova said.

Arecibo in 360 degrees

(Video by Tony Rojek, Spectrum News 13 staff)