In April 2002, whilst visiting NASA Ames' most priced building in the campus (energywise), I bumped into a poster of a huge aircraft. I love airplanes so my question was what was so special about this one that they had a poster of that size up on the wall. The answer came very quick. The aircraft (SOFIA) had a telescope inside it. Suffice to say that for me this is the epitome of heaven. Seriously, what can be more amazing (to an airplanes and stars lover) than an airplane with a telescope in it? With the mirror the size of the HSS (Hubble)!
SOFIA stands for Stratosferic Observatory for Infrared Astronomy and it's a joint venture between NASA and DLR (German Space Agency).
Here are some quick facts on this wonderful flying machine
SOFIA Quick Facts
Aircraft Model: Boeing 747SP (Special Performance)
Originally Built: 1977
First Science Flight: December 2010
Proposed Mission Lifetime: 20 years
Telescope Diameter: 2.5 meters (100 inches)
Wavelength Range: 0.3-1,000 microns
Instruments: Seven First-Generation Instruments include cameras, spectrometers and a high-speed photometer
Airspeed: Mach 0.85 (490 knots or 560 mph)
Observing Altitude: 37,000 – 45,000 ft (11,300 – 13,700 meters)
Average Science Flight Length: 10 hours (overnight)
Onboard Staff: Flight Crew: 3; Mission Crew: 2-6; Scientists & Educators: 5-15
SOFIA was built especially for flying across the Pacific so the aircraft has been here before on commercial flights. In it's current shape, it came to New Zealand in 2013 on her first deployment and is back now after two years with a hope for a life span of 20 years. You can find more about SOFIA here but also keep an eye on this site for more updates and stories on SOFIA. There will be more very soon!