sofia: the next generation airborne observatorySOFIA, the Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy, will carry a 2.5 meter telescope into the stratosphere on 160 7.5 hour flights per year. At stratospheric altitudes SOFIA will operate above 99% of the water vapor in the Earth's atmosphere, allowing observation of wide regions of the infrared spectrum that are totally obscured from even the best ground-based sites. Its mobility and long range will allow worldwide observation of ephemeral events such as occultations and eclipses. SOFIA will be developed jointly by NASA and DARA, the German space agency. It has been included in the President's budget request to Congress for a development start in FY96 (this October!) and enjoys strong support in Germany. This talk will cover SOFIA's scientific goals, technical characteristics, science operating plan, and political status.