The Origins Program is a NASA initiative designed to explore, through a series of space projects over the first two decades of the twenty-first century, the origin and evolution of life, from the Big Bang to the present day. Included in this investigation are the formation of chemical elements, galaxies, stars, and planets, the formation and development of life on Earth, and the quest for extrasolar planets and extraterrestrial life. Missions associated with the Origins Program fall chronologically into four groups.
Precursor missions, all scheduled to be operational by 2001, include the Hubble Space Telescope, FUSE (Far Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer), WIRE (Wide Field Infrared Explorer), SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory for Far Infrared Astronomy), and the Spitzer Space Telescope (previously known as the Space Infrared Telescope Facility, or SIRTF). Following these will be the first generation missions employing either large, lightweight optics or collections of small telescopes working in harness to provide images equivalent to those obtainable with a single, much larger instrument. They include the Space Interferometry Mission (SIM) and the Next Generation Space Telescope (NGST). The first generation missions will serve as technological stepping stones to the second generation missions, including the Terrestrial Planet Finder (TPF), and the third generation missions, including the Planet Imager (PI).