WASHINGTON — Despite facing the threat of cancellation for the second straight year, a NASA airborne observatory is continuing with regular operations.
NASA’s fiscal year 2022 budget request, released May 28, included a proposal to end the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), a modified Boeing 747 equipped with a 2.5-meter telescope to perform infrared observations. The agency argued in its budget justification that the high cost of operating SOFIA, about $85 million per year, was not justified given the low scientific output of the observatory.
The proposal marks the second year in a row, and third time in eight years, that NASA proposed shutting down SOFIA. In both its fiscal year 2015 and 2021 budget requests, NASA proposed terminating SOFIA, only to have Congress reject the proposal and fully fund the project.
A SOFIA official, speaking at a June 9 session of the 238th Meeting of the American Astronomical Society, did not sound alarmed by the latest proposal to cancel the observatory. “We’ve been in this place before where the president doesn’t have us in the budget,” said Margaret Meixner, director of SOFIA science mission operations at the SOFIA Science Center. “We are planning for success.”
That planning includes ...