NASA’s flying telescope
The atmosphere causes huge problems for astronomers; it blocks out certain types of light such as UV and x-rays, but turbulence in the air also bends an distorts images. This is what makes stars twinkle when any of us look up at the night sky and it's why astronomers designed the Hubble space telescope to orbit above the atmosphere. However NASA's latest endeavour to escape the atmosphere is a 20 tonne flying telescope. The telescope is called SOFIA and will actually sit inside a modified jumbo jet which will fly above 90 % of the atmosphere. However the telescope is positioned in the back of the plane and a section actually had to be cut out and replaced with modified parts to fit the telescope in. With the modifications and all that weight in the back no-one was quite sure how the jumbo jet would fly, but the first tests have just been performed and everything went well on a basic flight. Engineers still have to test how the plane will fly with the huge cargo doors open to allow the telescope to see out but if all goes well we'll have our first flying pictures from SOFIA in early 2008.