NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, SOFIA, departed Joint Base Andrews, Md., on Sept. 23, 2011 at 3:15 p.m. local time, en route to its home base at the Dryden Aircraft Operations Center in Palmdale, Calif. The flight to Palmdale concludes SOFIA's first international deployment.
SOFIA is a highly modified Boeing 747SP aircraft that carries a telescope with a 100-inch (2.5-meter) reflecting mirror that conducts astronomy research not possible with ground-based telescopes.
NASA's SOFIA left Palmdale on Sept. 16, 2011, flying a science mission while en route to Cologne, Germany. The flying observatory was open to the German public on Sept. 18, 2011, during German Aerospace Day, hosted by the German Aerospace Center, at the Cologne-Bonn Airport. SOFIA then flew to Stuttgart, home of the University of Stuttgart's German SOFIA Institute. The aircraft could be seen from the terminal, and tours were given to staff, students, and guests of the German SOFIA institute.
The flying observatory then flew a science mission back to the United States, landing at Joint Base Andrews on Sept. 21, 2011.Here, SOFIA staff and scientists gave tours to students from military families as part of the White House's "Joining Forces" initiative.
SOFIA will not conduct science during its return flight to Palmdale, however, it will resume science mission operations on Sept. 28, 2011.
SOFIA is a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR), and is based and managed at NASA's Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif. NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., manages the SOFIA science and mission operations in cooperation with the Universities Space Research Association headquartered in Columbia, Md., and the German SOFIA Institute (DSI) at the University of Stuttgart.