NASA’s now-retired Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy aircraft will find a permanent home in the Pima Air & Space Museum in Tucson. The airplane made its final flight from NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Palmdale, Calif., to Tucson on Dec. 13. It landed at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base before ultimately arriving at the museum.
“The SOFIA mission has a powerful potential to inspire, from its discoveries about the unknown in our universe, to the engineering achievements that broke new ground, to the international cooperation that made it all possible,” said Paul Hertz, senior advisor for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “We are excited SOFIA will continue to engage a diverse new generation of scientists, engineers, and explorers.”
The SOFIA aircraft is a Boeing 747SP jetliner modified to carry a reflecting telescope. Engineering innovations enabled a large door in the fuselage to remain open while the aircraft was in flight, allowing the telescope to observe infrared light from the moon, planets, stars, star-forming regions and nearby galaxies. After a successful eight years of science, SOFIA completed its science program and ended operations on Sept. 29.
To determine a new home for the plane after the end of the mission, NASA followed regulations for the disposition of excess government equipment. Pima, one of the world’s largest aerospace museums, is developing plans for when and how the SOFIA aircraft will eventually be on display to the public. Along with six hangars, 80 acres of outdoor display grounds, and more than 425 aircraft from around the world, Pima also has its own restoration facility where incoming aircraft like SOFIA are prepared for museum immortalization after their arrival.
At Pima, the plane will join other notable NASA aircraft, like the first Super Guppy that transported Saturn V rocket parts for the Apollo missions, and the KC-135 “Weightless Wonder V” that created low-gravity conditions by flying parabolic arcs – steep climbs and dives – to conduct science experiments and train astronauts.