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Origins Education Forum

Title: Origins Missions

Origins missions are designed to observe the birth of the earliest galaxies and the formation of stars, to find all the planetary systems in our solar neighborhood, to find planets that are capable of harboring life, and to learn to what extent life exists beyond our solar system. We do this to understand the origins of our world. We do this to answer two questions: Where did we come from? Are we alone? The following missions will help us to answer those questions. For more information and a wealth of materials, see the Origins science program site.

Far Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer (FUSE)

FUSE views the universe at ultraviolet wavelengths shorter than those observed by HST. Scientists use features at these wavelengths to constrain conditions in the Big Bang. FUSE was launched on June 24, 1999, and its mission has been extended until at least 2006.

Hubble Space Telescope (HST)

After more than a decade in orbit, the HST continues to reveal the universe in exquisite detail. The telescope has revolutionized our understanding of many astronomical topics.

James Webb Space Telescope (JWST)

The JWST will succeed the long-operating Hubble Space Telescope mission. With a mirror more than twice the size of Hubble’s, JWST will study the earliest stars and galaxies in our universe. JWST is expected to launch in 2013, with a 5 to 10 year lifetime.

Kepler Mission

Fixing its gaze at a region of space containing 100,000 stars, Kepler will search for Earth-like planets around stars beyond our solar system. Kepler is scheduled to launch in 2007, and to operate for 5 to 7 years.

NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI)

The NAI is a virtual institute that brings together researchers from nearly every field of science, seeking answers to the questions: How does life begin and evolve? Is there life elsewhere in the universe? What is the future of life on Earth and beyond? Established in 1998, the NAI is currently composed of 15 lead research teams from across the country that bridge the physical and life sciences to study the origins, evolution, distribution, and future of life on Earth and elsewhere in the universe.

The Navigator Program

JPL’s Navigator program combines several missions designed to detect and characterize Earth-like planets outside our solar system. Navigator includes the Space Interferometry Mission, the Terrestrial Planet Finder, the Keck Interferometer, and the Large Binocular Telescope Interferometer.

Keck Interferometer

The Keck Interferometer combines light from the two Keck telescopes to achieve the capabilities of a much larger single telescope. The two telescopes operated together as an interferometer for the first time in 2001. The Keck Interferometer will conduct a census of planets as small as Uranus around nearby stars.

Large Binocular Telescope Interferometer (LBTI)

Beginning in late 2006, the LBTI will combine the infrared light from two 8.4-meter telescopes on Mt. Graham, Arizona. The LBTI will study dust around other stars, detect giant planets outside our solar system, and image distant galaxies.

Space Interferometry Mission (SIM)

SIM will be capable of detecting planets a few times the mass of Earth around the nearest stars, extending the Keck Interferometer’s planet census. SIM is planned to launch in 2009 and to operate for 5 years.

Terrestrial Planet Finder (TPF)

TPF will find Earth-size planets orbiting other stars and measure their properties. By studying the atmospheres of these planets, TPF will determine whether other planets are capable of supporting life. Two spacecrafts will be launched. The first, to be launched in 2014, will use an instrument called a "coronograph," which uses a small disk to block the glare of a star, so that planets around it can be detected. The second, to be launched around 2020, is an "interferometer," which will consist of several infrared telescopes working together to achieve extremely detailed observations.

Spitzer Space Telescope (SST)

The Spitzer Space Telescope was launched into space in August 2003 to study our solar system, our galaxy, and the universe. The fourth and final observatory in NASA's family of Great Observatories, Spitzer detects infrared energies, enabling it to peer through gas and dust to study star and planet formation. During its five-year mission, Spitzer will provide new insights into the formation and evolution of early galaxies, the birth of stars, and clouds of gas and dust in space.

Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA)

SOFIA is a Boeing 747-SP aircraft that will carry a 2.5-meter telescope designed to observe the universe in infrared light. The world's largest airborne telescope, SOFIA will observe sites of star formation and the center of our galaxy in high detail. SOFIA is scheduled to begin operations in late 2005, and is expected to operate for at least 20 years.

Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE)

WISE will map the sky in infrared light, searching for the nearest and coolest stars, the origins of stellar and planetary systems, and the most luminous galaxies in the universe.