Now it’s possible to explore NASA’s flying observatory with a new 3-D virtual tour that brings users aboard SOFIA, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy.
SOFIA is a Boeing 747SP aircraft modified to carry a 100-inch diameter telescope to 38,000-45,000 feet. The tour enables users to view the exterior of the aircraft, and see the one-of-a-kind door covering the telescope cavity, which is opened in flight. Inside the aircraft’s main deck, visitors can explore the flying mission control center, where telescope operators, scientists, and mission directors control the telescope and conduct observations while flying in the stratosphere. The tour continues upstairs to the aircraft’s flight deck, where the pilots and flight engineers carefully fly the plane so that the telescope is in the right place at the right time.
SOFIA conducts 10-hour flights studying the solar system and beyond. From the altitudes it flies at, astronomers aboard can observe the cosmos with infrared light because they are above 99% of the water vapor in Earth’s atmosphere, which blocks infrared light from the ground. The observatory is used to study nearby galaxies, how stars form, the atmospheres of other planets and moons, complex molecules in space, black holes, comets and more. It is a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center, DLR.
NASA signed a Space Act Agreement with Google in late 2016 to collaborate in the areas of education and public engagement, which includes developing a series of virtual field trips and tours available freely, through the Expeditions App. In addition to the SOFIA Expedition, NASA contributed content for the development of a 3-D tour of the International Space Station, as well as tours that allow users to experience NASA’s Juno mission to Jupiter, the surface of Mars, as captured by NASA rovers, and Modern Figures, highlighting women in STEM.
The Google Expeditions app is available for free on Google Play and the Apple App Store. For more information, visit this page.
Points of Contact
Nicholas A. Veronico
NVeronico@sofia.usra.edu • SOFIA Science Center
NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California