Weighing 250 billion francs, she just landed on the Tahiti-Fa runway and her name is Sofia. An acronym for the Observatoire stratospérique pour l’astronomie infrared, or the French Observatoire stratospérique pour l’astronomie infrared. A Boeing 747 has been modified to fit on board a powerful telescope – 17 tons and a 2.7-meter diameter lens – and advanced equipment, assembled to be able to make in-flight observations of different parts of the universe.
This project, piloted jointly by NASA and the DLR Research Center, and is the German equivalent of CNES, usually flies to California, northern Europe, or at this time of year, New Zealand. But the kiwi border remains closed. Covid sent it to us.Smiling Christopher Cosley, the US consular agent, who, like President Edward Fritsch and Secretary of Finance and Economy Evonik Raven, came to welcome the plane and its crew at FAA in the early afternoon.
Because the Sophia mission is not just an aircraft: in total, 160 technicians, mechanics, engineers and, of course, researchers – or have already settled – have arrived in Tahiti for the duration of the mission. Until September 12, the 747 will make night flights of 9 to 10 hours, capturing the very high altitude shots of the Southern Hemisphere. “They are responsible for making all the measurements and arrangements so that the plane is in an ideal position, at a certain longitude, latitude and time, so that they can take the correct picture of the universe in infrared.”, continues the consular agent.
If the crew members – civilians – politely answer questions, on Monday afternoon at the airport, the expedition is waiting for the full installation to communicate officially. “Anyway, we are very happy to be in Polynesia”, a smiling team member, the NASA logo on the suit and a wreath around his neck. The welcome was warm, according to tradition, but also by instructions: in the country for which we want to do everything “Make life easier” This is an a priori exceptional task.
Thus make sure that it is no longer: “We will have repercussions at the level of hotels and services, as NASA is obligated to go as far as possible to local service providers, in restaurants”Christopher Cosley explained. « Our job is to make this visit last, to make sure they no longer need to go to New Zealand and that they come back here. ».
Charlie Renee for Radio 1 Tahiti