The SOFIA Mission Is Ending, but Its Legacy Will Be Long Felt

A view of SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy).

A view of SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy).
Photo: NASA / Jim Ross

This past April, NASA and its partners at the German space agency announced the end to the SOFIA mission. The modified Boeing 747SP jumbo jet is being retired after eight years of service, but its scientific contributions cannot be overstated. In honor of this closing mission, we present to you SOFIA’s greatest hits.

SOFIA, or the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, got off the ground in 2015, completing its primary mission in 2019. The mission was granted a three-year extension, but the high-altitude aerial observatory has now reached the end of the road. The reason for the cessation of operations, says NASA, is that SOFIA’s “science productivity does not justify its operating costs,” and that its capabilities aren’t aligned with upcoming science priorities identified by the agency’s Decadal Survey.

That’s a shame, but SOFIA did amazing work over the years, enabling hundreds of scientists to perform a broad range of atmospheric, astronomical, and planetary observations. Here’s a look at SOFIA’s most significant accomplishments.

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