Stories From California

Into the Night With The Flying Infrared Observatory

There are observatories on the ground gathering data from our neighboring galaxies, and we just got a glimpse of stunning images the James Webb Space Telescope sent from space to NASA. But: there is only one observatory on board a vintage 70s Jumbo-Jet. A flying Boeing 747 SP with a gigantic hole in its fuselage—SOFIA, short for Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy. The program might come to an early end this year, which made me even happier to get one of the rare SOFIA boarding passes.

“To look at galaxies far away, see black holes, watch stars come into being millions of lightyears ago will be so great,” I thought while packing a sweater, a sandwich, a bag of chips, chocolate, and an apple next to my recording equipment into the bag. “There will be no service on board and it gets really cold in the cabin after a few hours in 43 000 feet,” I had been warned to prepare for unusual circumstances.

Well, the flight did not turn out exactly as I thought it would, but it was one of the most memorable nights of my whole life.

Here is my story for German radio WDR.

Here is the English feature for KCRW in Los Angeles.

I also wrote about it for our weltreporter RiffReporter magazine, which is part of an independent journalists’ collective. Please consider subscribing.


please send your comments to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.