A world without a large optical telescope in space has become unthinkable for astronomers at the end of the 1990s — and they may not have to do without one. Since 1985, an increasingly clear vision of the future has been emerging. In pursuit of this vision, called “Origins,” NASA is preparing an entire series of observatories in space to explore the first galaxies as well as Earthlike planets around other stars in ever increasing detail. The basic premise is clear: Where do we come from, and are there other civilizations out there? The Origins Program combines political and scientific considerations, for NASA tried to find cosmic questions of deep interest to the public, while at the same time seeking broad support from the science community. The answers to the grand questions require telescope projects of which astronomers did not dare to dream only a short time ago.
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