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NASA's Odd Flying Observatory, SOFIA, Will Go on Display at Arizona Museum

The space agency retired the flying infrared telescope last year as the result of budget cuts.

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The aircraft will take its final flight on December 13.
The aircraft will take its final flight on December 13.
Photo: NASA

NASA’s flying observatory SOFIA is scheduled to make one last flight to its final resting place. The jumbo jet will be spending its retirement years at the Pima Air & Space Museum in Tucson, Arizona, where it will be on display for its adoring fans.

SOFIA, or the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, spent more than 15 years observing planets, comets, and asteroids during its long plane rides. The aircraft is a modified Boeing 747SP jet, fitted with a reflecting telescope. SOFIA cruised through Earth’s stratosphere, while its telescope poked out of a large door that remained open during flight. The observatory’s infrared instruments gathered crucial data on the cosmos from between 38,000 and 45,000 feet above the surface, which is obviously far higher than ground-based telescopes.

The hybrid jet took off in April 2007 and completed its last science mission on September 29. Since then, SOFIA has been chilling at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Palmdale, California. But the aircraft will take off one last time, flying to Arizona on Tuesday, December 13, NASA announced on Thursday.

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There, SOFIA will be housed at Pima, one of the largest aerospace museums in the world. The museum will prepare the aircraft at its restoration facility before SOFIA makes its public debut.

“The SOFIA mission has a powerful potential to inspire, from its discoveries about the unknown in our universe, to the engineering achievements that broke new ground, to the international cooperation that made it all possible,” Paul Hertz, senior advisor for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA, said in the NASA statement. “We are excited SOFIA will continue to engage a diverse new generation of scientists, engineers, and explorers.”

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SOFIA was one of the casualties of a NASA budget cut in 2021, with the space agency stating that its “science productivity does not justify its operating costs.” During its time in the air, SOFIA turned its attention to Pluto, Saturn’s moon Titan, and the remains of a supernova.

It’s a shame that SOFIA’s mission had to come to an end, but the aircraft is certainly getting the retirement plan it deserves.

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