Why NASA’s $1bn 747 SOFIA flying observatory is being axed after just 8 years

It’s no ordinary jumbo, but despite its unique capability of providing a window to the cosmos and beyond, NASA will shortly retire its unique Boeing 747 SOFIA flying observatory. Mark Broadbent reports

Mention space exploration and you probably think of observatories such as Hubble, the new James Webb Space Telescope – which is slated to return its initial images this summer – and telescopes on Earth in places with clear night skies such as Chile’s Atacama Desert.

April 26, 2007: Boeing 747SP-21 N747NA climbs away from TSTC Waco Airport for the first time with the SOFIA observatory on board in the hands of NASA pilot Gordon Fullerton, co-pilot Bill Brockett, flight engineer Larry LaRose, flight test engineer Marty Trout and L-3 flight test analyst Don Stonebrook.
April 26, 2007: Boeing 747SP-21 N747NA climbs away from TSTC Waco Airport for the first time with the SOFIA observatory on board in the hands of NASA pilot Gordon Fullerton, co-pilot Bill Brockett, flight engineer Larry LaRose, flight test engineer Marty Trout and L-3 flight test analyst Don Stonebrook. NASA-Tony Landis

Another tool at astronomers’ disposal in recent years has been Boeing 747-SP21 N747NA – better known as SOFIA, or the Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy – used jointly by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the German Aerospace Center (DLR, Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt). Operated NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center (AFRC) from Palmdale in California – a component of nearby Edwards Air Force Base – this unique 747 carries the world's largest airborne telescope.

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