Dr. Nancy Grace Roman, the “Mother of the Hubble Telescope” has passed away at the age of 93. The astronomer, who was honored with a LEGO mini-fig last year, was a long-time mentor and advocate for girls in STEM.  She died  December 25, 2018 in Germantown, Maryland, of natural causes.  Born May 16, 1925 in Nashville, Tennessee, she was the first Chief of Astronomy in the Office of Space Science at NASA Headquarters and the first woman to hold an executive position at NASA.

Dr. Nancy Grace Roman in 1962, shown with a model of the Orbiting Solar Observatory. {image via NASA}
Dr. Nancy Grace Roman with a model of the Orbiting Solar Observatory {image via NASA, 1962]

Dr. Roman, according to the New York Times,  “oversaw the early planning for the Hubble Space Telescope, which began orbiting Earth above its atmosphere in April 1990 to capture an unobstructed view of the universe.”

Placed into orbit from a manned Discovery shuttle and named for the pioneering American astronomer Edwin Hubble, the Hubble became the first large optical telescope in space. It has enhanced knowledge of distant galaxies as well as planets in our own solar system by transmitting images that would have been distorted if it were operating from within the Earth’s atmosphere.”

In addition to helping plan the Hubble Telescope, she was a major advocate for its construction and financing.

Dr. Roman as a Lego mini-fig. {image via LEGO}
She was also in charge of the planning and development of the

Dr. Roman earned her Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of Chicago in 1949. She worked for NASA from 1959 until 1979. When she retired, she was manager of the Astronomical Data Center at Goddard Space Flight Center. She continued working at Goddard as a contractor after her official retirement.

Dr. Roman developed an interest in astronomy as a child. At the age of eleven, when her family moved to Reno, Nevada, which at the time had minimal light pollution, she was fascinated with the night sky and formed an astronomy club with her friends.

The asteroid 2516 Roman was named in her honor. In 1962 Life Magazine named her one of the 100 Most Important Young People. The Washington Post reported that “her honors included the Women in Aerospace Lifetime Achievement Award and the NASA Exceptional Scientific Achievement Award. She helped promote professional opportunities for women through the American Association of University Women and spoke frequently in schools to encourage children to take on the challenges of science.”

“Astronomers had been wanting to get observations from above the atmosphere for a long time. Looking through the atmosphere is somewhat like looking through a piece of old, stained glass,” Dr. Roman told Voice of America in 2011. “The glass has defects in it, so the image is blurred from that.” She encouraged and fought for technology to help astronomers see beyond Earth’s atmosphere, like the Orbiting Solar Observatory and the Hubble Telescope.

In an article for Science Magazine, she said she was glad she ignored the many people who told her she could not be an astronomer. We’re glad, too.

Thank you for your vision, Dr. Roman.

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