NASA Rededicates Flying Observatory on Lindbergh Anniversary

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NASA Rededicates Flying Observatory on Lindbergh Anniversary
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Narrator: With that pronouncement and a splash from a ceremonial cocktail, NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy…or SOFIA…was rededicated to the pioneering spirit of Charles Lindbergh. The event was held on the 80th anniversary of Lindbergh’s historic solo non-stop flight across the Atlantic Ocean.

Erik Lindbergh, the grandson of Charles and Anne Morrow, joined the dedication ceremony and compared the similarities between his grandfather’s accomplishments and the potential of SOFIA to capture crystal clear images of the cosmos.

Erik Lindbergh: Grandfather’s flight across the Atlantic in 1927, really, as he said, was like a match to a bonfire. It really sparked tremendous interest in aviation and this extraordinary platform, using aviation and astronomy is a tremendous blend of innovation. I think, similar to what my grandfather did in 1927.

Narrator: SOFIA’s 8-foot diameter mirror will be the world’s largest airborne telescope, allowing scientists to capture infrared images unavailable to ground based observatories.

Eric Becklin: The water in the atmosphere absorbs infrared, so we have to get above that water vapor. And that’s why we put the infrared telescope into the back of this 747, so that we can get up into the stratosphere where there is no absorption by the water vapor.

Narrator: However, mounting a 45-thousand pound telescope assembly in the tail of an airplane was an engineering challenge. A 16-foot high hole was cut into the rear fuselage of the aircraft and doors were installed to protect the mirror when not imaging the universe. Bob Meyer is the NASA official in charge of the program.

Bob Meyer: There has been a rather large hole for the telescope to out of in flight in the back of the airplane and that required quite a modification to the airplane. It also required doors that could open and close to cover this opening for the telescope to look out of. And then the telescope itself is large and is quite an engineering marvel in itself.

Narrator: The telescope was built by NASA’s partner, DLR, the German Aerospace Center. It designed to study a range of astronomic objects, including solar system formations, black holes in other galaxies and may help answer the question “Where did life come from?”

Erik Lindbergh: It is going to bring together cultures around the world, scientists and kids and educations learning more about the great mysteries of the universe. Is there life out there? Maybe it’s microbial, maybe it’s really advanced, but I really hope that we can find it. And this will give us insight into that.

Host: Clipper Lindbergh!

Narrator: Several beverages were used to make the cocktail splashed over the nose of Clipper Lindbergh. One parts was French champagne, to represent Lucky Lindy’s landing in Paris after his historic flight.

California wine represented the two California-based NASA centers managing SOFIA and the science it will conduct.

Some German beer to represent DLR’s design and construction of the telescope system…and finally, a can of Dr. Pepper to represent L-3 Communications, the company that carried out the extensive modifications to SOFIA. L-3 is based in Waco, Texas where Dr. Pepper was invented.

SOFIA will now undergo flight testing at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center in preparation for the first science missions scheduled to begin in 2009.

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