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Gerard P. Kuiper Airborne Observatory


For over twenty years, the Kuiper Airborne Observatory (KAO) was operated as the world's only airborne telescope devoted exclusively to astronomical research. KAO was named after the astronomer Gerard P. Kuiper. Carrying a 36-inch reflecting telescope, KAO was a converted C-141 military cargo plane with a 160-foot wingspan. Flying at altitudes of 41,000 to 45,000 feet, above 99 percent of the Earth's infrared-absorbing water vapor, KAO was capable of conducting infrared astronomy. Harvey would have observed from behind the telescope; the telescope was looking out the hole in the roof behind the cockpit.


  • Gerard P. Kuiper Airborne Observatory
  • Observatory (space-based)


Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum/NASA/Ames Research Center



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This material is based upon work supported by NASA under Grant Nos. NNX09AD33G and NNX10AE80G issued through the SMD ROSES 2009 Program.

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