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The NASA C-141 was called the KAO. Operated by the Gerard P. Kuiper Airborne Observatory (KAO). A national facility operated by NASA to support research in infrared astronomy. This aircraft was a highly modified Lockheed C-141A Starlifter jet transport aircraft (s/n: 6110, registration: N714NA, callsign: NASA 714) with a range of 6,000 nautical miles (11,000 km), capable of conducting research operations up to 48,000 feet (14 km).

The KAO was based at the Ames Research Center, NAS Moffett Field, in Sunnyvale, California. It began operation in 1974 as a replacement for an earlier aircraft, the Galileo Observatory, a converted Convair 990 (N711NA) that was destroyed in a collision with a U.S. Navy Lockheed P-3C Orion patrol aircraft in 1973.