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Retired: NASA Shares Cool Map Showing All Of SOFIA’s Science Flights

NASA has shared a map of all flight tracks for every observation flight ever flown by the infamous SOFIA Boeing 747. In total, the aircraft flew 732-night observations from destinations around the world. According to the map, the plane made hundreds of flights over North America while making dozens over Western Europe, the west coast of South America, a large portion of Oceania, New Zealand, and the Antarctic Sea. The flight tracks are color-coded to show the difference in observation cycles.

Retirement plan

This modern marvel is enjoying the first few weeks of retirement. NASA released the map of its track logs to commemorate the aircraft and the achievements made by all those who helped build and operate it. In late September, NASA announced that it was ready to retire SOFIA. The fate of this legendary aircraft has yet to be determined. It is currently being offered to any US government agency. The Government Services Administration (GSA), which handles the distribution of government property, has listed the aircraft available to any agency interested.


It is unlikely that any agency will need the behemoth airplane, although the chance remains that it may remain in government service for years to come. If no intergovernmental party is interested in the jumbo jet, it will be offered to the private sector. It is anticipated that several museums in the US would be interested in the piece. Although the plane would likely go to the highest bidder, meaning that a private buyer, foreign or domestic, could acquire it.

The number of private organizations besides museums that would have use for the specialty airplane is rather limited. This leaves the odds in favor of one of the air and space museums in the US. 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 looking to use the custom telescope, this advanced technology will be disassembled before being transferred to its next owner.

Modern Marvel

SOFIA is a Boeing 747 retrofitted with a 20-ton, 2.7-meter telescope used for making astounding astronomical observations. It entered flight service as a passenger aircraft in 1977 with Pan Am. It stayed in service with the company until it was acquired by United Airlines in 1986, along with many other company assets. It remained in service with United until 1997, when NASA purchased it. The space agency pushed the airplane into service in 2010, but it was not at total operational capacity until 2014.

NASA SOFIA Boeing 747 in flight over airfield

Photo: NASA

It made its last astronomical observation in 2022 before retiring only a few weeks ago. Some of the aircraft and its team’s most significant accomplishments were discovering water on the sunlit side of Earth’s moon and mapping the locations of many galaxies containing supermassive black holes. Using infrared observation equipment, NASA observed the formation of many new stars and solar systems. It helped scientists better understand how material accretes to form stars and the part magnetic fields play in this process.

What do you think of this map of observation flights? Let us know in the comments below.

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