Pan Am was the first customer for the Boeing 747SP, having purchased 10 of the type. The 747SP that would
become SOFIA was delivered to Pan Am on May 6, 1977, and was christened Clipper Lindbergh on May 20, 1977, by
Anne Morrow Lindbergh on the 50th anniversary of Charles Lindbergh's solo trans-Atlantic crossing. Pan Am
registered the jetliner N536PA. (Boeing)
United Air Lines acquired the aircraft that was to become SOFIA, and flew it on its Pacific routes to Hawaii,
Tokyo, Japan, and other destinations. When acquired by United Air Lines, the aircraft's registration was
changed to N145UA, and is seen at San Francisco.
(Photo by Ed Davies)
When United Air Lines phased the 747SP out of service, they sold N145UA to NASA. Prior to delivery, United Air
Lines added NASA markings and painted a large black rectangle to represent SOFIA's telescope cavity. NASA and
the German Aerospace Agency (DLR) jointly developed and operate SOFIA, thus both names are shown on the
aircraft's tail. In NASA service, the aircraft's registration was changed to N747NA. After delivery, NASA flew
the aircraft to Waco, Texas, to begin the modification program. (NASA)
The former airliner's transformation to flying observatory is nearly complete in this view of SOFIA on the ramp at Waco, Texas, undergoing fuel tank pressure testing. Notice how the modified sections of the former airliner show in this unpainted view of the observatory. (NASA)
SOFIA's telescope cavity modifications are easily discernable in this overhead view. Looking into the partially open upper telescope door shows the aperture assembly (brown, to the right, part of the lower door), the telescope assembly structure (black), and the cover over the primary mirror (red).
SOFIA lifts off for its first post-conversion test flight at Waco, Texas, on April 26, 2007. The aircraft was
subsequently flown to NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in Edwards, California. (NASA)
Erik Lindbergh, grandson of famed aviator Charles Lindbergh, rededicated the SOFIA Boeing 747SP Clipper
Lindbergh at NASA Dryden on June 27, 2007. The dedication was held on the 80th anniversary of Charles
Lindbergh's solo trans-Atlantic crossing.
SOFIA's telescope was built by MAN Technologie AG and Kayser-Threde GmbH in Germany. The mirror weighs 17 tons
(34,000 pounds), and has an effective diameter of 2.5 meters (1 00 inches). Sky light is seen through the
2.5-meter SOFIA primary mirror for the last time. Once the mirror receives its opaque aluminum coating, this
view will be impossible.
Universities Space Research Association (USRA) technicians apply an acid solution to the uncoated SOFIA primary mirror, as the second of a three-step cleaning process preparing the mirror to receive its final reflective aluminum coating.
Two USRA technicians laying on the floor of the mirror coating chamber at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett
Field, California, photographed themselves reflected in the perfectly coated SOFIA telescope main mirror
suspended above them. Project engineers completed the first mirror coating of the German-built telescope in a 10-ton, 16-foot tall stainless steel vacuum chamber at Ames. It took just 20 seconds to apply the shiny
aluminum coating to the glass mirror.
(NASA/USRA Patrick Waddell)
SOFIA is based at the Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, California, and the hangar's NASA logo
is reflected in this view of observatory's primary mirror.
NASA and the German Aerospace Agency spent 2008-2010 completing the testing and evaluation of SOFIA. On Dec.
18, 2010, the observatory fully opened its telescope cavity door in flight for the first time. This was
followed by the "First Light" flight, when the telescope made observations at altitude for the first time on
May 26, 2010. At the end of the year, SOFIA made its first science flight on Nov. 30, 2010. In 2011, SOFIA
began a science target observation period known as "Basic Science" observing star forming regions, planets,
galaxies, comets, and the center of the Milky Way Galaxy. (NASA/Jim Ross)
One of SOFIA's first seven instruments is the Cornell University-developed Faint Object InfraRed CAmera for the SOFIA Telescope, or FORCAST (the red area and associated electronics attached to the telescope). This
instrument was used during the First Light and Basic Science Segment One flights. FORCAST collects infrared
energy in the four to 40 micron waveÂlengths.
Scientists, technicians, and mission operations staff prepare to take observations with the FORCAST camera
during flights in Spring 2011. This view looks toward the rear of the aircraft showing the telescope and
FORCAST camera on the aft bulkhead.
Infrared image of Jupiter from SOFIA's First Light flight composed of individual images at wavelengths of 5.4
(blue), 24 (green) and 37 microns (red) made by Cornell University's FORCAST camera. Ground-based infrared
observations are impossible at 5.4 and 37 microns and normally very difficult at 24 microns even from high
mountaintop observatories such as Mauna Kea (Hawaii) due to absorption by water and other molecules in Earth's
atmosphere. The white stripe in the infrared image is a region of relatively transparent clouds through which the warm interior of Jupiter can be seen. A recent visual-wavelength picture of approximately the same side of Jupiter is shown for comparison. (Images are oriented with Jupiter's south pole at the top.)
Infrared image: NASA/SOFIA/USRA/FORCAST Team/James De Buizer Visible light image: Anthony Wesley
Composite infrared image of the central portion of galaxy M82, from SOFIA's First Light flight, at wavelengths
of 20 (blue), 32 (green) and 37 microns (red). The middle inset image shows the same portion of the galaxy at
visual wavelengths. The infrared image views past the stars and dust clouds into the star-forming heart of the
galaxy. The long dimension of the inset boxes is about 5,400 light years.
Infrared image: NASA/SOFIA/USRA/FORCAST Team/Bill Vacca Visual image: N. A. Sharp/NOAO/AURA/NSF
This three-panel comparison of the Orion Nebula (Messier 42, M42) region is composed of a visible light image
from the Hubble Space Telescope, a near-infrared image captured by the European Southern Observatory in Chile,
and a mid-infrared mosaic image taken by SOFIA's Faint Object InfraRed Camera for the SOFIA TeleÂscope, or
FORCAST. The FORCAST instrument was developed by principal investigator Terry Herter and his team from Cornell
University and Ithaca College (both located in Ithaca, N.Y.).
M42 is a star-forming region located 1,500 light years from Earth that is visible to the naked eye as a fuzzy
patch in Orion's "sword." Within that patch of the sky are three areas of significance: The Trapezium Stars,
the Orion "Bright Bar," and the BecklinÂNeugebauer/Kleinmann-Low (BNKL) region.
The German Receiver for Astronomy at Terahertz Frequencies spectrometer, or GREAT, is mounted on the SOFIA's
telescope in its normal position. When observing, the instrument will move with the telescope plus or minus 20
degrees from its normal 40-degree angle. The GREAT instrument was designed and built by Rolf Gusten and his
team at the Max-Pianck-lnstitut fur Radioastronomie, Bonn, Germany, and the First Physics Institute at the
University Cologne, Germany, and other German institutes.
High-resolution far-infrared spectra of the Lobster Nebula (Messier 17, M17) obtained with the GREAT
spectrometer and SOFIA on the night of April 5-6, 2011, superimposed on a Spitzer near-infrared image. The
white spectra are C II (singly-ionized carbon) and the green spectra are CO (carbon monoxide). The two panels
at bottom show maps of C II and CO emission intensity within the red box in the upper panel.
Spectra and spectral maps: GREAT Team/ NASA/DLR/USRA/DSI
Background IR image: NASA/JPL-Caltech-Spitzer
SOFIA Observatory Finishes Open-Door Flight Tests