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NASA flying observatory in first mission

Ithaca, N.Y. -- NASA says its new airborne astronomical observatory has flown its first complete science mission following five months of test flights.

A 17-ton telescope mounted in the fuselage of a modified 747 jumbo jet, the SOFIA observatory, for Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, will embark on a 20-year investigation of the infrared spectrum of the universe, an area not yet explored by satellite- or ground-based observatories.

An Ithaca College associate professor of physics on board for last week's science mission says he looks forward to the cosmic insights SOFIA will provide, a university release said.

"The images we captured are beautiful and rich in details that we already know are unique and will advance our understanding of the process of star formation," Luke Kelley said.

"We're working hard on data analysis and we look forward to sharing those images and our scientific findings over the next few weeks and months," he said.

SOFIA is an international collaboration between NASA and the German Aerospace Center, Deutsches Zentrum fur Luft und Raumfahrt.

The first science mission flight flight took off from an Air Force runway in Palmdale, Calif.
"These initial science flights mark a significant milestone in SOFIA's development and ability to conduct peer-reviewed science observations," NASA Astrophysics Division Director Jon Morse said.

"We anticipate a number of important discoveries from this unique observatory, as well as extended investigations of discoveries by other space telescopes."

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI).

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