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Astronomer Erick Young Named Director of 'SOFIA' Airborne Observatory
The highly modified Boeing 747SP will fly its first astronomy missions soon.
University of Arizona astronomer Erick Young, a widely recognized authority on infrared astronomy, has been appointed science mission operations director for NASA's Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy, called SOFIA, the U.S. space agency announced yesterday.
NASA said that Young's appointment marks a major milestone for the airborne observatory, a highly modified Boeing 747SP aircraft fitted with a 2.5-meter/98-inch diameter infrared telescope.
SOFIA is slated to begin its "first light" observations in early winter 2009-2010 as part of the airborne telescope's 20-year celestial observation program.
Young continues a UA legacy to airborne astronomy that began with Gerard Kuiper, founder of the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, and Steward Observatory Regents' Research Professor Emeritus Frank Low.
SOFIA is a descendant of Low's 12-inch telescope on a Learjet, and of the Kuiper Airborne Observatory that flew science missions with a 36-Inch telescope from 1974-1995.
"I'm very excited about the science possibilities with SOFIA," said Young, who will remain with the UA Steward Observatory until September.
"If you look to the future, there are actually going to be fairly limited opportunities for far-infrared astronomy for the next several years, except for SOFIA," Young said.
After the three-year mission of the European Space Agency's soon-to-be-launched Herschel Space Observatory, SOFIA will provide the main access to the far infrared for perhaps a decade, he added.
"The James Webb Space Telescope will be a huge project, but it will operate at shorter up through mid-infrared wavelengths," he noted. "SOFIA will cover longer wavelengths.
"SOFIA will have an impact in developing new instrumental capabilities at far-infrared and submillimeter wavelengths," Young said. "Even though SOFIA is not a space borne facility, it will enable astronomers to develop advanced instruments and huge focal plane arrays with potential to make great contributions to science."
Young, who specializes in designing science instruments, has participated in virtually all of NASA's space infrared astronomy missions to date.
Most recently, Young was responsible for developing the Spitzer Space Telescope's Multiband Imaging Photometer 3, or MIPS-3, detector array that provides both imaging and spectroscopic data at far-infrared wavelengths. UA Regents' Professor George Rieke is principal investigator for MIPS.
As SOFIA science mission operations director, Young will direct, supervise and provide technical and management guidance for the combined Universities Space Research Association and Deutsches SOFIA Institute staff, the NASA announcement said.
Young also will manage the airborne observatory's equipment, instruments, support facilities and infrastructure to maximize its science productivity. He will oversee planning and execution of the program's early science milestones in support of the SOFIA Science Center for initial scientific observations, as well as the continued development of the observatory.
SOFIA is expected to achieve its full science operating capability by 2014.
Young is a member of NASA's science oversight committee for the Wide Field Camera 3, or WFC3, scheduled for installation on the Hubble Space Telescope during space shuttle Atlantis' 11-day flight targeted for launch May 12 from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The WFC3 will be Hubble's most technologically advanced instrument.
In addition, Young is directing construction of the infrared detector arrays for the James Webb Space Telescope's Near Infrared Camera, known as NIRCam, a project for which UA astronomy professor Marcia Rieke is principal investigator.
Young is the recipient of the George Van Biesbroeck Prize, which is awarded annually by the American Astronomical Society for long-term achievement in astronomy, as well as five NASA Group Achievement Awards.
SOFIA is a joint program between NASA and the German Space Agency, Deutsches Zentrum fur Luft- und Raumfahrt, Bonn, Germany.
The SOFIA program is managed by NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif.; the aircraft is based at the Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility, Palmdale, Calif. NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., manages the SOFIA science and mission operations in cooperation with the Universities Space Research Association, Columbia, Md., and the Deutsches SOFIA Institute, Stuttgart, Germany.