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Abstract. By looking back at the last half century and beyond, an understanding emerges in the patterns and influences of the social, fiscal and institutional development of astronomical institutions and observatories. In this paper, the authors1 review many changes that have transformed how astronomers build and use their "great telescopes"; they also examine the evolving process that maximizes the productivity and impact of undertaking modern ground-based optical/infrared astronomy. The integration of modern engineering and experimental practices, broadened access to large-scale funding and international competition, all have a role in these changes. A changing social paradigm has moved these ventures from the scientific elite into the realm and structure of tightly managed projects involving close partnerships between engineers and scientists. Astronomer's observational methods have changed in fundamental ways as well, driven by the complexity of the instruments used and their tremendous cost. The conclusion of this paper is that optical/infrared ground-based astronomy is in transition. "Hundred-million-dollar-scale" 8m to 10m telescopes have been erected and now our communities have billion-dollar-scale ambitions. To realize these ambitions, the same communities need to relinquish cherished notions of individual and even institutional dominance and merge into large, productive consortia consisting of institutions and multi-national agencies.
1Matt Mountain is now at the Space Telescope Science Institute, Homewood Campus, 3700 San Martin Drive, Baltimore MD 21218, USA.
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