Flying onboard a Boeing 747SP: Stargazing with SOFIA

NASA’s iconic Boeing 747SP made significant contributions to our study of the cosmos, but budgetary constraints have brought its mission to a premature end. In part two of this feature, Bernd Sturm recounts his recent experience stargazing with SOFIA

During its peak, NASA’s heavily modified Boeing 747SP airborne observatory generally flew between three and four missions every week, but relatively few people have ever seen this elusive jet. During daylight hours, the Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) resided in the Armstrong Flight Research Centre’s (AFRC) Building 703 (previously known as the Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility), a highly restricted corner of Palmdale Regional Airport. It usually emerged late in the afternoon, departing under the final rays of the California sunshine for a sortie typically lasting 8-10 hours before returning just before sunrise. 

SOFIA soaks up the sun on the Palmdale ramp ahead of another nocturnal stargazing mission
SOFIA soaks up the sun on the Palmdale ramp ahead of another nocturnal stargazing mission Bernd Sturm
The vast Building 703 at Palmdale covers an impressive 39,000m2 and was originally build by Rockwell International to house the final assembly line of its B-1B Lancer bomber
The vast Building 703 at Palmdale covers an impressive 39,000m2 and was originally build by Rockwell International to house the final assembly line of its B-1B Lancer bomber Bernd Sturm
SOFIA is a joint venture between NASA, DLR and DSI
SOFIA is a joint venture between NASA, DLR and DSI Bernd Sturm

 

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