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.
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.