The astronomy world is poorer off today. Nancy Grace Roman, the first chief of astronomy at NASA’s Office of Space Science, died on December 25th at 93. She was widely considered the “mother” of the Hubble Space Telescope, persuading the scientific community to rally around the concept and campaigning for funding. While Hubble launched 11 years after her retirement, there’s little doubt that it was her efforts that made the telescope a reality.
Roman also broke ground in other areas. On top of being the first chief astronomer, she was the first woman executive at NASA. In 1962, she also led the team behind NASA’s first successful astronomical mission, Orbiting Solar Observatory-1. As the Washington Post noted, Roman was interested in space at an early age and encouraged women to pursue education in math and science in light of the resistance she faced when becoming an astronomer.
She also helped with missions for Earth-mapping satellites and other orbiting observatories. All told, Roman played an important role not just in running the early NASA, but in setting its current course — many of the cosmic discoveries made in recent years can be attributed to the use of spaceborne telescopes. She’ll be missed.