Cryostat, COBE Optical Assembly


Display Status:

This object is on display in the Explore the Universe exhibition at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC.

Collection Item Summary:

This is an engineering model of the cryostat used on the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) spacecraft. The cover is partly sliced away to display the optical and electronic components within. These include two of the three instruments flown on COBE: the Far InfraRed Absolute Spectrometer (FIRAS) and the Diffuse InfraRed Background Experiment (DIRBE). The assembly was built at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center and transferred to NASM in 1996. It was displayed in many venues, including the 1988 International Astronomical Union meeting in Baltimore. Over the 10 months before the last of the liquid helium evaporated, the instruments on COBE sent back a wealth of data that helped support and elucidate the thermal hot Big Bang theory of the origin of the Universe. It was transferred to NASM by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in 1998. It is now on display in the Explore the Universe Gallery.

Collection Item Long Description:

Inventory Number


Credit Line

Transferred from the National Aeronautical and Space Administration

Country of Origin

United States of America


Aluminum, mixed metals, plastics and electronics and glass.


  • 3-D: 82.6 x 144.8cm (32 1/2 x 57 in.)
  • Support (Stand): 1ft 5in. x 3ft 4in. x 3ft 4in. (43.2 x 101.6 x 101.6cm)
  • Dimensions given in documentation:
  • Diameter: 32.5 IN. ASSEMBLY
  • Height: 57 IN. ASSEMBLY
  • Length: 40 IN. STAND
  • Width: 40 IN. STAND
  • Height: 17 IN. STAND

Data Source

National Air and Space Museum

Restrictions & Rights

Do not reproduce without permission from the Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum