Looking almost brand-new, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) set off from Hamburg, destined for its home base at the Armstrong Flight Research Center in Palmdale, California, at 13:16 CET on 14 December 2014 after its five and a half month visit. It landed in Palmdale at 15:20 local time (00:20 on 15 December, CET) after an 11-hour flight. Since arriving in Hamburg on 28 June, the modified Boeing 747SP, operated jointly by the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum fuer Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) and the US space agency NASA, has undergone an extensive overhaul conducted by Lufthansa Technik. Besides the 37-year-old aircraft itself, servicing also included the 17-ton telescope with a mirror diameter of approximately 2.7 metres that is installed on board SOFIA.
„This means that DLR has provided part of its 20 percent contribution to the operation of the observatory, as agreed with NASA,“ explained Gerd Gruppe, DLR Executive Board Member responsible for the Space Administration, when saying farewell to SOFIA at Lufthansa Technik in Hamburg. „DLR considers participation in SOFIA to be an important component of its ongoing exploration of the Universe. Over recent decades, German scientists have played a crucial role in developing observation instruments for the infrared part of the spectrum. In this way, they contributed to the immense successes of the ESA missions ISO (Infrared Space Observatory) in the mid-1990s and also Herschel between 2009 and 2013,“ Gruppe added. SOFIA is now – and will remain for the foreseeable future – the only infrared observatory that will permit this research to continue.