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SOFIA Telescope Assembly Characterization First Light (TACFL) Flight Team Receives NASA Group Achievement Award

The Universities Space Research Association (USRA) is proud to announce that the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) Telescope Assembly Characterization First Light (TACFL) flight team has won a NASA Group Achievement Award for the 'success of the SOFIA First Light flight, and for the dedicated efforts of the team, who made it their top priority for the several weeks leading up to the flight.' The award was presented to the team, comprised of scientists and engineers from NASA Dryden, NASA Ames, USRA, the Deutsches SOFIA Institute (DSI), and Cornell University, at Dryden Flight Research Center in California, home to SOFIA, on January 18, 2011.

The Telescope Assembly Characterization First Light (TACFL) Flight occurred on May 25, 2010. During this flight, the first observations of an astronomical object through the main telescope occurred. The telescope was fitted with the Faint Object InfraRed CAmera for the SOFIA Telescope (FORCAST) infrared camera, developed by Prof. Terry Herter of Cornell University, which allows thermal infrared band observations at wavelengths between 5 and 40 microns. During the TACFL flight, Jupiter and the galaxy M82 were the first astronomical objects imaged by the airborne telescope. The flight marks the first use of SOFIA as an observatory, and was considered a great success.

USRA personnel acted as mission director in addition to handling flight planning and the operation of the telescope. Once data had been collected, USRA scientists participated in reducing the first light images for public release. 'The successful completion of SOFIA's First Light Flight marked a major milestone in the observatory's development, a process in which USRA has been a collaborator since its inception,' said USRA's Dr. Erick Young, SOFIA Science Mission Operations Director. 'USRA's SOFIA staff is proud to have been recognized by the space agency for the dedication and hard work by our staff and collaborators in bringing the observatory one step closer to its full operational capabilities.'

NASA Group Achievement Award is awarded to either a group of Government employees or a group comprised of both Government and non-Government personnel for an outstanding accomplishment through the coordination of many individual efforts which have contributed substantially to NASA's mission, with explicit consideration given to: (1) the quality of results and the level of impact on NASA programs or operations; (2) effective management of cost and schedule; (3) customer satisfaction; (4) team growth and capacity for future contribution; and (5) additional credit for development of innovative approaches, use of and contributions to lessons-learned data banks, and/or success in responding to unforeseen crises.

SOFIA is a joint NASA and Deutsches Zentrum fur Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR; German Aerospace Center) program. USRA and the Deutsches SOFIA Institute (DSI) manage SOFIA's science and mission operations center for NASA at the Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California.

Founded in 1969, USRA is an independent research corporation with competencies that span space, Earth, and life sciences related disciplines, which are closely aligned with the nation's science and national security agencies. As a non-profit corporation with 105 major research university members, USRA's scientific and technical staff collaborate with over 300 universities annually. This depth of reach into the research community provides a unique platform for advancing science and technology.