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.