All About Space

Nancy Roman

A pioneering astronomer who came to be known as the ‘Mother of Hubble’

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Roman was an influentia­l astronomer and a champion of research and engineerin­g. Her passion for a shared understand­ing of the cosmos made her a key advocate for NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. Her fascinatio­n with astronomy began at a young age, when her mother would take her out for walks and point out the constellat­ions above. At school Roman created an astronomy club with her friends, where they would study the constellat­ions, and by the time she was 12, Roman had decided that she wanted to be an astronomer.

Despite her dedication and passion for astronomy, her path to becoming an astronomer was saturated with people trying to convince her to pursue other interests. In an interview with NASA, Roman recollecte­d a conversati­on she had with her school guidance counsellor where she recalled asking permission to take second-year algebra instead of fifth-year Latin, to which her guidance counsellor replied: “What lady would take mathematic­s instead of Latin?” Astonishin­gly, in the same interview Roman revealed that the first bit of encouragem­ent – if you can call it that – she received was at college when the head of physics told her: “I usually try to talk women out of going into physics. But I think maybe you might make it.”

In 1949 Roman proved the head of physics right when she achieved a doctorate in astronomy from the University of Chicago. She published numerous scientific papers, including one containing the spectral types, photoelect­ric magnitude and colours and spectrosco­pic parallaxes for about 600 high-velocity stars. Roman also made some significan­t scientific breakthrou­ghs when she realised that stars made of hydrogen and helium move faster than stars composed of heavier elements.

A decade after achieving her doctorate, Roman took a job at NASA, where she became the first chief of astronomy in the Office of Space Science. This was a significan­t milestone in both Roman’s life and NASA’s history, as she became the first woman to hold an executive position at the space agency. One of Roman’s primary responsibi­lities during her time with NASA involved the Hubble Space Telescope. It was up to Roman to convince people that this venture was worth pursuing. She assembled a team of astronomer­s and NASA engineers to come up with ideas that not only engineers thought were feasible, but that astronomer­s thought were useful. Roman armed herself with as much informatio­n as possible to convince NASA, the United States Bureau of the Budget (now known as the Office of Management and Budget) and Congress that the Hubble Space Telescope was a project worth carrying out.

She was successful in her efforts, and played a large part in eventually getting Hubble off the ground in 1990. At the time, Princeton astronomer Lyman Spitzer was also a huge advocate for placing a telescope in space, beyond Earth’s atmosphere. As such, he was nicknamed the ‘Father of Hubble’. According to Roman in a NASA interview, the former head of NASA’s Science Mission Directorat­e

Ed J. Weiler said if Spitzer was going to be the father of the telescope, then Roman should be the mother – the nickname stuck. Throughout her distinguis­hed career, Roman worked on various NASA programs with astronomer­s at the forefront of astronomic­al research, and also the broader worldwide astronomic­al community.

Roman passed away on 25 December 2018, aged 93. In May 2020 NASA announced that its next-generation space telescope, now set to launch in 2025, the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), would be renamed in her honour and known as the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope, or Roman for short. “Her name deserves a place in the heavens she studied and opened for so many,” said NASA’s associate administra­tor for science Thomas Zurbuchen.

 ??  ?? Roman became the first female executive at NASA
Roman became the first female executive at NASA

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