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7 Conclusion Remarkable progress has been made in the past 5 years in organizing the Astrobiology program at NASA, thereby fostering the emergence of an interdisciplinary field with new research opportunities. NASA scientists and managers deserve much of the credit for carrying the idea forward and successfully implementing a broad and active program in an era of tight budgets. It would be a mistake to imagine, however, that the program was created out of "whole cloth." Instead, NASA's Astrobiology program is an outgrowth of the nation's investment over several decades in scientific research in a variety of fields underpinning astrobiology. Without the roughly half- century of novel ideas and exciting discoveries from biology, chemistry, geology, planetary science, astronomy, and other related fields, the Astrobiology program could not have been conceived of, let alone funded, as a significant federal initiative. There is a hope or even an expectation among the general public interested in astrobiology that key answers will or should come soon. COEL is of the opinion that the results and insights coming from astrobiological research will turn out to be different from what could have been accomplished before the establishment of this program and its flagship institute, the NASA Astrobiology Institute. Every so often an extraordinary insight or discovery will emerge that will not only change the direction of astrobiology but also illuminate in hindsight how the unification of different techniques and approaches under astrobiology has encouraged progress. But the process will take time. For this reason, COEL counsels patience. More than four centuries ago, decades before Galileo turned the telescope on the sky for the first time, the Italian philosopher-scientist Giordano Bruno wrote: "There are countless suns and countless earths all rotating around their suns in exactly the same way as the seven planets of our system. We see only the suns because they are the largest bodies and are luminous, but their planets remain invisible to us because they are smaller and non-luminous.") Less than 40 years later, Galileo first turned a telescope on the heavens to reveal worlds moving around other worlds: the Galilean satellites of Jupiter. Yet it would be four centuries before techniques inaccessible to Galileo, based on physical principles likely unimaginable to him, were brought to bear to detect and study planets around other stars. While we hope that, in the much more frenetic pace of discoveries that characterize the present century compared with the 16th, we do not have to wait 400 years for the answers to how life began on Earth, or to how ubiquitous or rare are inhabited Earths in the heavens, one cannot predict when or whether success will come. 47
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48 LIFE IN THE UNIVERSE Bruno also wrote: "The countless worlds in the universe are no worse and no less inhabited than our Earth." Thus he articulated a vision for astrobiology, but today we seek other, more profound ones. As astrobiology develops, we expect shifts in paradigms that will require new approaches and different combinations of disci- plines to be applied to the age-old questions of our origin and our relationship to the cosmos within which we exist. REFERENCE 1. G. Bruno, De L'infinito Universo e Mondi, 1584.
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