The book “NASA’s Kuiper Airborne Observatory, 1971-1995: An Operations Retrospective With a View to SOFIA,” chronicles the history of NASA’s airborne astronomy program. Authors Edwin F. Erickson (Astrophysics Branch, research scientist, now retired), and SOFIA Associate Scientist Allan W. Meyer focus on the Kuiper Airborne Observatory (KAO), but also feature the Ames-based airborne laboratories and observatories that preceded it: the Convair 990, the Learjet Observatory, and the U-2 research aircraft.
The KAO’s development, astronomy programs, science highlights, operations, personnel, and education programs are remembered through photos, charts, flight plans, and other visuals. While the book provides a look inside the observatory, documenting key metrics, including operating costs, productivity measures, and awards received by astronomers, it also provides a glimpse of the camaraderie felt among the crew and science staff that helped make the KAO successful.
The book concludes with a look at how the KAO led to the development of the Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), the largest airborne observatory to date, with powerful science capabilities. SOFIA can observe objects far too faint for the KAO to have studied, and builds on its foundation as a world-class facility with a great team and award-winning science.
The retrospective can be downloaded as a pdf here.