NASA's retired SOFIA aircraft is ready to engage a new generation of explores, engineers, and scientists

With SOFIA's move to her new home, a world of exciting educational opportunities is ushered in!
Kavita Verma
Sofia airplane over the Sierra
SOFIA over the Sierra

NASA  

Once a remarkable piece of aerial science, NASA's retired Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) airplane is taking its next big journey. After being a huge part of space missions, SOFIA will find a permanent home in the Pima Air & Space Museum in Tucson, Arizona.

As one of humanity's most ambitious research aircraft ever produced, an unprecedented era of astronomy research comes to an end. However, with SOFIA's move to her new home, a world of exciting educational opportunities is ushered in!

From giving museum visitors a close-up look into a craft that flew so high, it penetrated Earth's stratosphere and beyond – providing extraordinary views into space – to inspiring future generations through captivating anecdotes from mission engineers and pilots alike.

This once incredible scientific marvel is now ready to become a beacon for aspiring minds, from students to teachers alike.

NASA's retired SOFIA aircraft legacy

SOFIA was a remarkable collaboration between NASA and the German Space Agency at DLR, who together created an incredible telescope to explore our universe.

The mission received maintenance and operation support from NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center in California. SOFIA achieved its full operational capability in 2014 and ended its journey with the final scientific flight that took place on Sept 29, 2022.

The data gathered by SOFIA has provided astronomers with a unique view into regions of space that would have been almost impossible to observe otherwise. The aircraft's diameter telescope was sensitive enough to detect faint infrared light sources and collect data from active star-forming regions, supermassive black holes, and distant galaxies that are not visible at other wavelengths.

The legacy of SOFIA will continue long after the plane is retired. The data collected during its decade-long mission has given astronomers a wealth of information that will be used to continue pushing the boundaries of knowledge about our universe.

How NASA determined a new home for SOFIA

From its first research mission to Europe to the final take-off in 2022, NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) is about to reach its final destination.

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After completing the last mission, NASA followed the necessary regulations to determine where SOFIA's next home would be. As one of the world's largest aerospace museums, Pima had plans in store for this special aircraft: not only hangars and outdoor display grounds on 80 acres of land – but also their own dedicated restoration facility.

On Tuesday, Dec 13, it will take its last flight from Armstrong Flight Research Center in Palmdale to Tucson's Pima Air & Space Museum, where it is sure to capture the interest and inspire countless generations who visit.

Once its arrival is ensured, it will join hundreds of other planes from around the globe that are honored with museum immortalization at Pima Aerospace Museum. Other planes, such as the first Super Guppy that transported Saturn V rocket parts for the Apollo missions, the KC-135, created low-gravity conditions, and many more.

The SOFIA mission has incredible potential as a source of wonderment with all that can be learned about outer space through engineering advancements and international collaboration.