May 16, is reserved to Nancy Grace Roman
Happy birthday Nancy Grace Roman! She is a pioneering NASA astronomer who played a central role in the development of the Hubble Space Telescope. Roman was born in 1925 in Nashville, Tennessee. At age 11 she started an astronomy club with her friends in Reno, Nevada, using a 10-cent book called Seeing Stars as reference.
She earned a bachelor’s degree in astronomy from Swarthmore College in 1946 and a PhD from the University of Chicago in 1949. At Yerkes Observatory she catalogued high-velocity stars and analyzed stellar spectra to differentiate the ages of similar-looking stars across the galaxy. Roman took at job in radio astronomy at the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) in 1955. Four years later, a former NRL employee asked her if she knew anyone who would want to set up a program in space astronomy for a newly established agency called NASA.
Shortly after, Roman became NASA’s first chief of astronomy. Over the next two decades, she oversaw the development of space probes and telescopes. Her most famous success is Hubble, which launched in 1990 after years of development spearheaded by Roman. She retired from NASA in 1979 but has remained active teaching and lecturing across the country.
Photo credit: AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives, Roman Collection