The unique flying observatory SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy) has completed its last research flight. The head of science at NASA, Thomas Zurbuchen, made this public on Twitter.
The aircraft is flying off the coast of the US state of California and the Mexican city of Baja California over the Pacific. Zurbuchen thanked committed researchers and engineers, “including many from DLR”. They would have brought together important scientific findings. Because the US government no longer provided money for the operation, the end of the mission was announced in April.
SOFIA consists of a converted Boeing 747, which houses a 17-ton special telescope specialized in observations in the far infrared. In eight years, the aircraft has completed around 800 research flights. Germany had borne 20 percent of the annual operating costs of around 85 million US dollars – which were not far below the costs of the far more profitable Hubble Space Telescope. The instrument was also developed and built in this country. The demand for an end to the mission was justified with the “high costs and modest scientific productivity”.
In mid-August, SOFIA returned from New Zealand, where regular observations were made in the southern hemisphere. As NASA explained at the time, the plane had been damaged there in a storm. As a result, the steps at the entrance could no longer be used, and the aircraft had to be repaired again for the last research flights. As a result, SOFIA had to return earlier than planned to its home base in Palmdale, California, from where it lifted off for research purposes for the last time.
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