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Home > News and Updates > NASA Rededicates Flying Observatory on Lindbergh Anniversary


NASA Rededicates Flying Observatory on Lindbergh Anniversary

May 21, 2007

Grey Hautaluoma
NASA Headquarters, Washington

Beth Hagenauer
NASA Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif.

RELEASE: 07-117

Waco, Texas – Monday, NASA dedicated a unique astronomy aircraft to pioneering aviator Charles Lindbergh on the 80th anniversary of his historic transatlantic flight. Erik Lindbergh, the pilot's grandson, joined NASA for the event May 21, in Waco, Texas.

NASA's new Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) is a highly modified 747 airliner that carries a 45,000-pound infrared telescope system. Pan American Airways originally christened the plane the "Clipper Lindbergh" in 1977. At the rededication ceremony, NASA officials discussed the similarities between Lindbergh's accomplishments and SOFIA's potential to capture scientifically important infrared images unavailable to earthbound telescopes. The SOFIA aircraft was modified at L-3 Systems in Waco and is wrapping up a series of functional checkout flights before heading to NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., for further tests and systems integration.

Erik Lindbergh unveiled a plaque commemorating Clipper Lindbergh. "This project is a fantastic blend of a 20th century legacy aircraft and a 21st century platform for exploration," he said.

Intended to fly above 40,000 feet, SOFIA will place its infrared telescope above nearly 99 percent of the Earth's atmospheric water vapor, greatly enhancing its abilities to study the cosmos. Its state-of-the-art telescope will be able to carry out scientific missions with greater flexibility and ease of upgrade than a satellite-borne observatory.

NASA's partner in SOFIA is the German Aerospace Center, which provided the telescope. NASA modified the aircraft. A 16-foot-high opening has been cut into the aft fuselage to permit observations to be made at altitude. Once it arrives at Dryden, SOFIA will continue flight and systems testing for about two years while its observatory system hardware and software are integrated with the aircraft. The telescope's first images are expected in 2009.

See also the NASA Dryden home page.

Erik Lindbergh unveils plaque
Erik Lindbergh unveils a plaque commemorating his grandfather to dedicate the 747 Clipper Lindbergh, a NASA airborne infrared observatory known as SOFIA. (Tom Tschida / NASA)

Erik Lindbergh christens SOFIA
Erik Lindbergh christens NASA's 747 Clipper Lindbergh with a special commemorative concoction representing local, NASA, and industry partners. (Tom Tschida / NASA)


Ann Morrow Lindbergh dedicates the 747SP for PanAm
Ann Morrow Lindbergh, widow of aviator Charles Lindbergh, at the dedication of the Boeing 747SP Clipper Lindbergh into commercial service with PanAm, in New York on May 21, 1977, 50th anniversary of Lindbergh's solo crossing of the Atlantic. The same aircraft has now become SOFIA, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy.



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