The Gerard P. Kuiper Airborne Observatory

THE KAO FLYING OBSERVATORY WAS A MODIFIED C-141 CARGO AIRCRAFT OPERATED BY NASA AMES RESEARCH CENTER TO CARRY A 36 INCH INFRARED TELESCOPE. NOW RETIRED AFTER A LONG AND SUCCESSFUL CAREER, IT WILL BE REPLACED BY A NEW 747 CALLED SOFIA.

 

WHY SHOULD A TELESCOPE FLY ?

The Earth's atmosphere is not transparent to all wavelengths of radiation. To observe these other wavelengths we have to lift the telescope above the part of the atmosphere that absorbs them.

Infrared radiation from the stars is largely absorbed by the water vapor in the lower atmosphere (the troposphere). The KAO was designed to fly up into the dry upper atmosphere (the stratosphere) to see the universe in a different way. This sometimes means flying over eight miles up making it necessary for the KAO crew and the astronomers to carry special oxygen equipment.

The KAO's telescope looks out a door on the upper side of the aircraft just behind the cockpit - you can see it as a black square in the photograph at the top of this page.

The 35 mm NIKON cameras used by the CAN DO team aboard the KAO were held by special mounts on the head ring of the telescope. Here the cameras had to survive and operate in a near space environment and at temperatures as low as -70 C.

 

Inside the aircraft the KAO staff and the astronomers operated the telescope with the help of a large computer system called ADAM.

The CAN DO camera system was operated by a separate small control system in the rear of the aircraft. Here the teachers had a video display of the telescope tracking camera and the output of ADAM to help them target their wide field cameras.

The CAN DO Project's KAO Adventures

Comet Halley

Christchurch , New Zealand

1986

Supernova 1987a

Christchurch, New Zealand

1987

Teachers on the KAO

NASA, Ames Research Center, California

1987

Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9

Melbourne, Australia

1995

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