This is N747NA, better known as SOFIA- the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy – Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter
You know, despite being a carbon-based life form and therefore largely composed of water molecules – that doesn’t mean I have to like water vapor.
It’s annoying. Think about it? You come in from outside into a warm room and your glasses fog up. Water vapor condenses and produces fog, which keeps me from flying. Sometimes, water vapor even contains annoying minerals resting in solution that can damage precision electronics. If you think I am annoyed by water vapor, talk to an astronomer! It’s worse for them.
Imagine being on the only habitable planet you know of, but having the atmosphere that keeps you alive act like a giant opaque blanket. Gross, right? That’s Earth!
With the sliding door over its 17-ton infrared telescope wide open, NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy – or SOFIA – soars over California’s snow-covered Southern Sierras on a test flight in 2010 – Photo: NASA
Now imagine that you want to look into the vast reaches of the cosmos, at wavelengths below what the human eye can see, which also happen to be even more affected by the water vapor that resides within the lower atmosphere. A recipe for despair.
The best way to get above the earth’s vapor-barrier would be to build a satellite. I think everyone agrees on that.
If, long after your natural life ends, the billions of dollars in funding you requested to build a satellite is approved – they might name it after you and your grad student’s grandchildren may be able to profit from the data. That doesn’t seem like the best idea for continuing research at a regular tempo does it? What do you do? Well, beyond actually funding scientific endeavors more, there is a second choice.
What is better than a classic Boeing 747-100? One that carries a frek’n space shuttle. This is an epic video, but at the same time it is sad. This documents N905NA’s final flight as a Shuttle Carrier from LAX to Dryden Flight Research Facility completed on September 24, 2012. The second Shuttle Carrier (N911NA) was retired on February 8, 2012.
NASA will continue to use N905NA to research reducing turbulence produced by larger aircraft.
From NASA’s website about the video: For the first time ever, NASA’s two highly modified Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft briefly flew in formation over the Edwards Air Force Base test range Aug. 2. Both aircraft were scheduled to be in the air on the same day, NASA 911 (foreground) on a flight crew proficiency flight, NASA 905 (rear) on a functional check flight following maintenance operations. Since both aircraft were scheduled to be in the air at the same time, SCA pilot Jeff Moultrie of Johnson Space Center’s Aircraft Operations Directorate took the opportunity to have both SCA’s fly in formation for about 20 minutes while NASA photographer Carla Thomas captured still and video imagery from a NASA Dryden F/A-18.
There are only two specially modified Boeing 747-100s that were used to transport the Space Shuttle from their landing location back to the Kennedy Space Center. The first 747-100 (N905NA) was originally built for American Airlines and acquired in 1974. The aircraft wore American’s livery (minus titles) until it was repainted in 1983 with a NASA livery. In 1988, NASA purchased a second 747-100, this time an SR model, from Japan Airlines (JAL – N911NA). The second started operations with NASA in 1991.
So what will happen to the 747s now? Most likely they are going to be retired or end up as a show piece in a museum. Zach Rosenberg, with Flight Global, pointed out via email that, “Boeing recently borrowed one to fly their Phantom Ray from St. Louis to Edwards AFB.” However, Rosenberg does not feel that NASA has enough projects to keep either of the aircraft.
If you know anyone looking for a Boeing 747-100 with low hours and a unique look, I am guessing NASA might have a deal for you.
Boeing's mock up of what the CST-100 will most likely look like. Photo from Boeing.
The Boeing Company has been making things that go into space for quite some time now. Earlier in the week, they announced plans to possibly start sending normal Joe-Schmos into space…for a price.
Boeing and Space Adventures have created a memorandum of agreement regarding the marketing the transportation of passengers on commercial flight board the Boeing Crew Space Transportation-100 (or CST-100) to low Earth orbit.
Boeing plans to use the CST-100 to transport crews to the International Space Station, but will also provide room for private individuals, companies and pretty much anyone who isn’t NASA to hitch a ride.
Boeing and Space Adventures have not yet set a price per seat for spaceflight participants, but will do so when full-scale development is under way. Boeing continues to advance its design for the CST-100 spacecraft under NASA’s Commercial Crew Development Space Act Agreement. The spacecraft, which can carry seven people, will be able to fly on multiple launch vehicles and is expected to be operational by 2015.
“We are excited about the potential to offer flights on Boeing’s spacecraft,” said Eric Anderson, co-founder and chairman of Space Adventures. “With our customer experience and Boeing’s heritage in human spaceflight, our goal is not only to benefit the individuals who fly to space, but also to help make the resources of space available to the commercial sector by bringing the value from space back to Earth.”
At this point there is no cost set up for these flights, but don’t expect them to be cheap.
In my opinion this is awesome. Virgin Galactic is already well on their way to start space tourism and getting a big company like Boeing involved will just up the stakes and create competition.