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NASA SOFIA Airborne Astronomy Ambassador Mission

NASA SOFIA Airborne Astronomy Ambassador Mission

(Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy)

It was a dark and stormy night, no wait that was the second flight. We arrived at Palmdale, CA, Bob Hope Airport on October 12th 2015. After checking into our hotel and getting our swag, note the NASA blue jackets, we were off to get our badges and a tour of the SOFIA aircraft. From there it was a whirlwind of aviation and science bliss.

SOFIA is a specially equipped 747 SP. SOFIA flies at night. The total flight time is 10.8 hours with no refueling required. Installed into the bulkhead of the aircraft is a 6 ft. Infrared Telescope.

Our Mission was to locate and use Neptune to calibrate the FIFI-LS filter and telescope, view and collect data from the NGC 253 Galaxy, and collect data from the Eagle Nebula. From our work station we were able to do just that. On board the aircraft there were 42 people. Everyone was considered crew. There were no passengers. The entire airplane was full of work stations and testing equipment.

There was so much that I will just make a list of the highlights of the trip:

  • I was also able to sit jump seat for takeoff and landing in the 747 SP

  • Watched a B-2 doing touch and goes at night

  • Had a night out with the whole crew at the Yard House Restaurant (SOFIA Director, Mission Director, lead scientist from Germany, Meteorologist, Director of flight planning, and many more)

  • Touring the Armstrong research labs and hangar

  • Poking around a few U2’s and a DC-8 that have been repurposed for Scientific Research.

  • Mission room for Mission preflight briefings

We were supposed to fly twice but the second night our flight was scheduled was plagued by not just rain but flooded roads, mud slides that closed down major freeways, massive lightning. Needless to say it was cancelled but this did allow us to get to know the whole crew and that pretty awesome also.

It was so amazing and so educational and fun all at the same time. It was a great experience and I would recommend it to anyone. Lisa, my NASA partner from Plainwell schools and I have volunteered to fill in anytime they have empty spots or have last minute cancellations. We are keeping our fingers crossed. To everyone who says “that was truly a once in a life time experience “our answer is “ We hope not “.

Ginger DeVillers

West Michigan Flight Academy / Managing Director

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