NASA’s SOFIA Flight 9-25-17

My Excellent Adventure!

My flight on SOFIA went off last Monday, but not without a few hiccups. During our mission briefing before the flight, it was explained that our flight path, originally scheduled to head up into Canada, was now headed out near Hawaii. SOFIAPath I’m not clear on all the reasons it changed. We had 5 or 6 targets during the mission … the flight path is designed to get the 2.5 meter wide telescope that is embedded in the side of the 747 pointed in the right direction for each target.

Not long after we boarded I was told I’d been chosen to sit in the cockpit with the pilots during takeoff. It was a wondrous experience! Our takeoff was delayed however because the telescope operators were having problems getting some of the instrumentation to turn on … no use taking-off if the telescope wasn’t working. I was up in the cockpit, but my comrades down below told me later that I missed this incredible problem solving effort by the entire team.


One of the highlights of the 10 hour flight was talking with Chao-Wei Tsai, a scientist from UCLA who was on the flight to study a super massive black hole. IMG_0970









Later in the flight I was able to sit with Samuel Richards IMG_0996 who was one of the telescope operators that night.  During our conversation they lost a connection to the telescope and I watched as he and his assistant (and the rest of the team) problem solved the issue. Window after window of computer code was opened and checked … occasionally a line of code was edited until they found the problem lines of code and they were back online … what was awesome was how everyone communicated and stayed calm under the pressure of getting the telescope back online. Getting your chance to use the telescope is beyond highly competitive, and if things go wrong getting another chance to fly is somewhat problematic.

Here are more photos and videos taken before and during the flight by me and other members of our group.

SOFIA took off today to position itself to chase the shadow of Neptune’s moon Triton on Thursday. More about that soon. Much more to tell here about my experience than I have time to write about. Hope to share more later.

Learning is messy!

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