NASA has announced that it has renamed its next-generation space telescope that is currently under development. The telescope was called the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope or WFIRST. The telescope is being renamed in honor of Nancy Grace Roman, NASA’s first chief astronomer. Roman paved the way for space telescopes focused on the broader universe.
The new name is the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope or Roman Space Telescope for short. The instrument will launch in the mid-2020s to investigate long-standing astronomical mysteries. Among those mysteries are forces behind the expansion of the universe and the search for distant planets beyond our solar system. Roman is considered to be the “mother” of the iconic Hubble Space Telescope that launched three decades ago.
NASA says that she was a “tireless advocate” for new tools to allow scientists to study the broader universe from space. Nancy Grace Roman passed away in 2018, leaving behind a “tremendous legacy.” NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine says that Roman’s leadership and vision are what led NASA to become a pioneer in astrophysics and launch the Hubble.
The agency also notes that the renaming of the telescope recognizes the incredible achievements of women in science and “moves us even closer to no more hidden figures and no more hidden galaxies.” Nancy Grace Roman was born May 16, 1925, in Nashville, Tennessee. She earned her bachelor’s degree in astronomy from Swarthmore in 1946 and a doctorate from the University of Chicago in 1949. Roman began her career with NASA in 1959 only six months after the agency was established.
She served as the chief of astronomy and relativity in the Office of Space Science, managing astronomy-related programs and grants. Interestingly, Roman said that the men at NASA generally treated her equally, but that she had to use the “Dr.” prefix with her name to get past the secretaries.