The C-141 Starlifter That Had A Mission To Catch The Space Shuttle

When two space-age technologies come together…almost (The KAO and the Space Shuttle)


The Gerard P Kuiper Airborne Observatory (KAO) C-141 – Note the opening forward of the wing for the telescope.

The C-141 Starlifter That Had A Mission To Catch The Space Shuttle — – We Love All Things Aviation

The best, deep-space optical observatories are mounted high in tall mountains. This is to avoid the light distortion caused by denser atmosphere at lower levels. Even so, infrared light—light that travels easily across vast distances in space—is quickly absorbed by slight amounts of water vapor. To get the clearest infrared images without actually going into space is to mount a telescope on an aircraft that can operate above 41,000 feet above sea level.

In 1965, NASA converted a Convair 990 airliner, the Galileo Observatory, for astronomical observations. In 1973, that aircraft was destroyed in a mid-air collision during a landing at Moffett Naval Air Station (Moffett Federal Airfield today).

Later that year, NASA selected and specially modified and outfitted a Lockheed C-141 Starlifter (N714NA, S/N 6110) with a 36-inch optical telescope mounted on a stabilized platform to serve as a high-altitude observatory. The aircraft was named the Gerard P. Kuiper Airborne Observatory (KAO).

This was at the same time that the Space Shuttle Columbia was preparing to make its first orbital flights. Concerned about the heat of reentry, it was determined that the KAO C-141 could be used to take “Infrared Imagery of the Shuttle” (IRIS) to collect high resolution infrared images of the Shuttle’s underside during reentry to obtain accurate heating data.

Read more and see more photos:

Note: I have recently been asked to write articles for an aviation blog. Some of you who follow my blog may share my interest in aviation; if so, and if you are not familiar with, you may want to check it out.

This entry was posted in Aircraft of the Month, There I was... and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The C-141 Starlifter That Had A Mission To Catch The Space Shuttle

  1. Axel Anaruk says:

    Thanks for the pointer to Avgeekery!

  2. merlinjr01 says:

    You are welcome. I hope to be a regular on there. Six articles so far. Having fun.

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