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SOFIA is the largest airborne observatory in the world, capable of making observations that are impossible for even the largest and highest ground-based telescopes. During its planned 20-year lifetime, SOFIA also will inspire the development of new scientific instrumentation and foster the education of young scientists and engineers.

SOFIA is an 80/20 partnership of NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR), consisting of an extensively modified Boeing 747SP aircraft carrying a reflecting telescope with a diameter of 2.7 meters (106 inches), 2.5 meter effective diameter. The aircraft is based at NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center in Palmdale, Calif. The SOFIA Program Office is at NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., which also manages SOFIA's science and mission operations in cooperation with the Universities Space Research Association (USRA; Columbia, Md.) and the German SOFIA Institute (DSI; University of Stuttgart).

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