WASHINGTON — The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has been operating a DC-8-72 aircraft as part of its flying observatory missions since 1985, but the agency decided to replace it with a Boeing 777 due to the problems that the old aircraft currently experiences.

The Boeing 777-200ER (MSN 32892), which was previously operated by Japan Airlines with registration number JA704J, is nearly 20 years old.

The triple seven had been stored in Victorville, California, from July 2020 until December 15, 2022, before it was moved to Langley Air Force Base in Virginia. The aircraft will be given a new American registration under NASA's ownership.

The DC-8-72 was an aircraft that had been modified to support the agency's research operations. It has four engines and was originally built in 1969 by the Douglas Aircraft Company. NASA acquired it in 1984, and it is currently located at the NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center in Palmdale, California.

The aircraft has a range of approximately 5,400 nautical miles and is capable of flying at altitudes between 1000 and 42,000 feet for a maximum of 12 hours.

NASA has used the aircraft to gather data at high altitudes and through remote sensing for a variety of studies, including archaeology, ecology, geography, hydrology, meteorology, oceanography, volcanology, atmospheric chemistry, cryospheric science, soil science, and biology.

The DC-8 is used for four types of missions: developing sensors, verifying satellite sensors, retrieving telemetry data during the launch or re-entry of space vehicles, and conducting basic research studies of the Earth's surface and atmosphere. It is also used for optical tracking.

Before it can be used for active missions, the Boeing 777 will need to undergo modifications at NASA's Langley Research Center. It is currently unclear when it will be able to fully replace the DC-8, as the modification and testing process is expected to take several years.