NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), a Boeing 747SP aircraft equipped with an infrared telescope, on April 6 completed its first science flight using the German Receiver for Astronomy at Terahertz Frequencies, or GREAT for short.

GREAT Principal Investigator Rolf Guesten of the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, and his team conducted their observations high above the central and western United States beginning the night of April 5, according to a NASA press release. Among their targets were IC 342, a spiral galaxy some 11 million light-years from Earth.

SOFIA has been in development since 1996. Its German-built telescope saw first light in May 2010. NASA and the German Aerospace Center, DLR, continue to conduct a mix of science and test flights as they prepare the flying observatory for its full operational capability starting around 2014, when it is expected to make 100 dedicated science runs a year.