NASA has announced that it will be naming the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), its next-gen space telescope in honour of Nancy Grace Roman, NASA’s first chief astronomer who is regarded as the ‘Mother of Hubble’.
NASA’s WFIRST is set to launch sometime in the mid-2020s with the objective of finding exoplanets along with helping astronomers uncover cosmic mysteries like the expansion of the universe and dark energy. The space agency has now revealed that the space observatory will be henceforth known as, Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope – or Roman Space Telescope.
Nancy Grace Roman had joined NASA just six months after it was established in 1959 serving as the chief of astronomy and relativity in the Office of Space Science. In her endeavours, the late astronomer has many great achievements accredited to her which ultimately led to the moniker, “mother” of NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine while lauding Nancy Grace Roman’s leadership and contributions to astrophysics said, “I can think of no better name for WFIRST, which will be the successor to NASA’s Hubble and Webb Telescopes.”
I’m proud to announce that we’ve renamed our WFIRST mission to the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope. Her leadership enabled NASA to become a pioneer in astrophysics. This mission will honor its namesake by transforming our view of the cosmos: https://t.co/qqPKD46PY3 pic.twitter.com/tYJmpoDtIo
— Jim Bridenstine (@JimBridenstine) May 20, 2020
NASA launched four Orbiting Astronomical Observatories between 1966 and 1972, of which only two were successful. But these missions, under the guidance of Roman, were demonstrating the merit of space-based observations in astrophysics and ultimately, led to the Hubble Space Telescope.
But Roman is also the scientist who spearheaded the development of Hubble Space Telescope by setting up a committee of astronomers and engineers in mid-1960s, “to envision a telescope that could accomplish important scientific goals.”
She was able to convince NASA and the United States Congress that the launch of the world’s most powerful telescope was of top priority, and fast forward 30 years later, Hubble has turned out to be the revolutionary, contributing to some of the most groundbreaking scientific discoveries. It was Hubble’s chief scientist, Ed Weiler who referred to Roman as “the mother of the Hubble Space Telescope.”
Former Sen. Barbara Mikulski, who has worked with NASA on the Hubble and WFIRST said, “It is fitting that as we celebrate the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage, NASA has announced the name of their new WFIRST telescope in honour of Dr Nancy Roman, the Mother of Hubble – well deserved. It recognizes the incredible achievements of women in science and moves us even closer to no more hidden figures and no more hidden galaxies.”
Image Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center