NASA has shared a map of all flight paths for every observation flight ever made by the infamous SOFIA Boeing 747. In total, the plane has made observations for 732 nights from destinations around the world. According to the map, the aircraft completed hundreds of flights over North America while performing dozens over Western Europe, the west coast of South America, a much of Oceania, New Zealand and the Antarctic Sea. Flight paths are color coded to show the difference in observation cycles.
This modern marvel is enjoying the first few weeks of retirement. NASA released the map from its flight logs to commemorate the aircraft and the accomplishments of everyone who helped build and operate it. At the end of September, NASA announced that it was ready to retire SOFIA. The fate of this legendary aircraft has yet to be determined. It is currently offered to any US government agency. The Government Services Administration (GSA), which handles the distribution of government assets, has listed the planes available to any interested agency.
It is unlikely that any agency will need the giant plane, although it remains possible that it will remain in government service for years. If no intergovernmental party is interested in the jumbo jet, it will be offered to the private sector. It is expected that several museums in the United States would be interested in the piece. Although the aircraft would likely go to the highest bidder, meaning a private buyer, foreign or domestic, could acquire it.
The number of private organizations in addition to museums that would use the specialized aircraft is rather limited. That leaves the odds in favor of one of the air and space museums in the United States. The most likely recipients would be the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC, or the Space Center in Houston, Texas. Unless picked up by a government agency seeking to use the custom telescope, this advanced technology will be disassembled before being transferred to its next owner.
SOFIA is a retrofitted Boeing 747 with a 20-ton, 2.7-meter telescope used to make amazing astronomical observations. It entered flying service as a passenger aircraft in 1977 with Pan Am. It remained in service with the company until it was acquired by United Airlines in 1986, along with many other company assets. company. It remained in service with United until 1997, when NASA purchased it. The space agency commissioned the plane in 2010, but it did not reach full operational capability until 2014.
It made its last astronomical observation in 2022 before retiring just weeks ago. Some of the most significant accomplishments of the plane and its team were discovering water on the sunlit side of Earth’s moon and mapping the locations of numerous galaxies containing supermassive black holes. Using infrared observing equipment, NASA observed the formation of many new stars and solar systems. This has helped scientists better understand how matter accumulates to form stars and the role magnetic fields play in this process.
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