Scientist, Astronomy (EXES Instrument)

Submission Information
Publish Date: 
Thursday, August 12, 2021
Archive Date: 
Thursday, November 4, 2021
Job Summary
Job Category: 
Science Engineering
Institution Classification/Type: 
SOFIA / Universities Space Research Association
Moffett Field
United States of America
Job Announcement Text: 

Instrument scientists are experts in the operation of, and the data produced by, the scientific instruments used on board the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA). Instrument scientists generally focus on supporting one instrument and may provide a back-up supporting role on another. Instrument scientists serve as the point of contact between the observatory and the guest observers, prepare, plan, and oversee the execution of observations during flight operations (as part of a team with the instrument operator, telescope operator, and mission director), and carry out the inspection, calibration analysis, and quality assurance assessment of data reduced by the automatic pipelines to ensure that high quality calibrated products are generated, ingested into the archive, and distributed to the community.  SOFIA science flights are at night and last 8-10 hr; an instrument scientist flies approximately one to two dozen flights per year.  The instrument scientist would primarily support the EXES instrument, which is the facility’s medium- and high-resolution (R~ 5000-100,000) mid-infrared (5-28 microns) spectrograph.

Instrument scientists have a fraction of their time available for their own scientific research. The research should preferably be aligned with SOFIA’s scientific themes, which include using infrared observations to study the birth of stars and planets, the origins of life, the physics of the distant universe, and the evolution of planetary systems. Funding is available for travel to conferences and observing runs, computer equipment, publications and visiting collaborators.  

Essential Duties/Responsibilities: 

  • Characterize and conduct observations with SOFIA science instruments, particularly EXES. Knowledge of mid-infrared astronomical data acquisition and reduction is required, and additional knowledge of instrument hardware and data acquisition software is preferred. 
  • Provide support to SOFIA Guest Observers, including the preparation for, acquisition of, and reduction of observations taken with SOFIA science instruments in general and EXES in particular.
  • Execute observations with SOFIA science instruments (EXES) in queue observing mode (for the Guest Observer community).
  • Track and report on instrument capabilities and assist in repairs/adjustments as necessary.
  • Represent SOFIA and engage the scientific community in research work through research collaborations, visits, invited guests, workshops, conferences, etc.
  • Perform general scientific observatory support functions (proposal technical reviews, support of colloquium series, generate and give SOFIA related presentations, etc.) as directed by SMO management.
  • Perform scientific research in astronomy, broadly relevant to SOFIA.
  • Ensure the protection of NASA and USRA intellectual property with respect to commercial and International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) and the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) concerns through disclosures, patent applications, and adherence to NASA’s scientific and technical information dissemination guidelines.
  • Support efforts by USRA Management to ensure that USRA conducts its business operations in an effective, cost-competitive, and professional manner  
  • Complete required trainings as scheduled.

Other job related duties as assigned 

Required Qualifications: 


  • PhD in Astronomy, Physics or related field


  • Minimum of 2 years in post Ph.D. experience in astronomical research and infrared observations.
  • Experience in ground based or air borne infrared observations is a particular advantage. 
  • Experience with astronomical observing on modern facilities.
  • Experience with astronomical instrumentation and/or observer support is preferred.
  • Experience with analyzing data from modern scientific facilities.
  • Experience with infrared observations and data reduction/analysis is preferred.
  • Good track record of publications in leading scientific journals.

Knowledge, Skills & Abilities:  

  • Ability to support and communicate effectively with research astronomers, both expert and novices in the field of FIR astronomy.
  • Excellent written and verbal communication in English is required, fluency in written and spoken German a plus.
  • Ability to read and interpret documents such as safety rules, operating and maintenance instructions, and procedure manuals.  
  • Ability to write routine reports and correspondence, speak effectively before groups of customers or employees of organization. 
  • Ability to define problems, collect data, establish facts, and draw valid conclusions. 
  • Ability to interpret an extensive variety of technical instructions in and deal with several abstract and concrete variables.
  • Proficiency in Microsoft Office and its applications. 
  • Teamwork and the ability to work effectively with co-workers, customers, and supervisor in a professional and courteous manner.

Working Conditions: 

This job primarily operates in a professional office environment. This role routinely uses standard office equipment such as computers, phones, photocopiers, etc. Extensive online usage. While performing the duties of this job, the employee is frequently required to stand; walk; sit, use hands.  Keyboarding for large time spans each day will be a significant part of this position. 

The job requires the ability to work onboard the SOFIA observatory, both on the ground and in flight.  Significant parts of the job require night-time work, away from the home base.

While performing the duties of this job, the employee may occasionally be exposed to fumes or airborne particles.  The employee may be exposed to moving equipment, vehicles and mechanical parts.  The noise level in the work office environment is typically mild.  The environment on the aircraft during flight operations may become noisy and tiring. The employee must be capable of performing all duties in a technical / scientific setting including offices, laboratories, shops, and aircraft maintenance facilities as well as on the aircraft / observatory, both while on the ground and during flights.  The employee may need to lift and / or move up to 50 pounds.


This position is based at NASA AMES Research Center Moffett Field, CA but significant travel is required to Armstrong Flight Research Center and international business travel for long lengths of time.

Applicants should apply to the posting at USRA Careers and include a letter of interest, resume, or curriculum vita. Additional information on USRA can be found at

USRA is an Equal Opportunity Employer: Minorities / Females / Protected Veterans / Disabled / Sexual Orientation / Gender Identity.

Application Deadline: 
Thursday, November 11, 2021
Selection Deadline: 
Thursday, November 11, 2021
Current Status of Position: 
Accepting Applicants
Apply to Job
Attention To: 
Ben Tanis
Street Line 1: 
7178 Columbia Gateway Dr Columbia MD 21046
Inquiries About Job
Attention To: 
Ben Tanis