News / USA

Mother of Hubble Always Aimed for Stars

Nancy Grace Roman was NASA's first chief of astronomy

Nancy Grace Roman, 86, was NASA's first chief of astronomy and is considered the 'mother' of the Hubble Space Telescope.
Nancy Grace Roman, 86, was NASA's first chief of astronomy and is considered the 'mother' of the Hubble Space Telescope.

Multimedia

Audio

Back in the 1950s few women in the United States worked outside of the home, and even fewer earned doctorate degrees or went on to have professional careers.

However, as the first chief of astronomy at the U.S. space agency, Nancy Grace Roman is a notable exception.   

Mesmerized by the moon

Roman’s fascination with space began not long after she was born in Nashville, Tennessee in 1925, the only child of a teacher and a scientist.

“My grandmother sent back a letter that mother had written when I was four, saying that my favorite thing to draw was the moon," she says. "Certainly by the time I was in seventh grade, I knew I had to have a long education if I wanted to become an astronomer, but I figured I’d try it and if I didn’t get far enough I could always end up teaching in high school or math or physics.”

Pursuing her interest in astronomy was not easy. Women of her generation were systematically discouraged from going into science.

“I still remember asking my high school guidance teacher for permission to take a second year of algebra instead of a fifth year of Latin," she says. "She looked down her nose at me and sneered, ‘What lady would take mathematics instead of Latin?’ That was the sort of reception that I got most of the way.”

Shaking off stereotypes

But Roman was determined to become an astronomer and learn everything she could about stars. She went to college, studied science and earned her doctorate in astronomy from the University of Chicago in 1949.

Nancy Grace Roman, center, with President John F. Kennedy in the Oval Office at the White House in 1962.
Nancy Grace Roman, center, with President John F. Kennedy in the Oval Office at the White House in 1962.

She spent the next decade teaching and working as a research associate but soon realized that, as a woman, her prospects for advancement at a research institution were limited.

So, in 1959, she accepted a job at NASA, the U.S. space agency, to set up a program in space astronomy.

As part of her new job, Roman travelled around the country, trying to understand what astronomers really wanted.

“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," Roman says. "The glass has defects in it, so the image is blurred from that.”

Honing Hubble

That need for clear, sharp images from space was all the motivation she needed.

Roman helped develop The Hubble Space Telescope, a large, space-based observatory which has revolutionized astronomy by providing unprecedented deep and clear views of the universe.
Roman helped develop The Hubble Space Telescope, a large, space-based observatory which has revolutionized astronomy by providing unprecedented deep and clear views of the universe.

“I set up a committee of astronomers from all over the country, plus some engineers from NASA, to sit down together and decide what we should do, what did the astronomers want to do, what did the engineers think was possible to do, and I led that effort for several years until we had a fairly detailed design of what we thought would make sense.”

That design was the Hubble Space Telescope, an instrument that could soar above the atmosphere, orbit the earth, and capture and transmit clear observations of the universe back to earth.

NASA’s current chief astronomer, who worked with Roman at the agency, calls her “the mother of the Hubble Space Telescope.”

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope snapped this image of the planetary nebula on July 27, 2009. It is one of Nancy Grace Roman's favorite Hubble images.
NASA's Hubble Space Telescope snapped this image of the planetary nebula on July 27, 2009. It is one of Nancy Grace Roman's favorite Hubble images.

“Which is often forgotten by our younger generation of astronomers who make their careers by using Hubble Space Telescope," says Ed Weiler. "Regretfully, history has forgotten a lot in today’s Internet age, but it was Nancy in the old days before the Internet and before Google and e-mail and all that stuff, who really helped to sell the Hubble Space Telescope, organize the astronomers, who eventually convinced Congress to fund it.”

Encouraging others to reach for the stars

Since retiring from NASA in 1979, Roman spends much of her time consulting, teaching and lecturing across the country, all the while continuing to be a passionate advocate for science.

Nancy Grace Roman teaches astronomy to 5th graders at Shepherd Elementary School in Washington, DC, in the late 1990s.
Nancy Grace Roman teaches astronomy to 5th graders at Shepherd Elementary School in Washington, DC, in the late 1990s.

Today, at the age of 86, Roman enjoys motivating young girls to dream big.

“One of the reasons I like working with schools is to try to convince women that they can be scientists and that science can be fun,” she says.

Roman hopes she's inspired young women to set aside their inhibitions and reach for the stars, just as she did.

You May Like

Uganda Court Annuls Anti-Gay Law

Court says law was passed in parliament without enough members present for a full quorum More

Multimedia Thailand Makes Efforts to Improve Conditions for Migrant Laborers

In Thailand, its not uncommon for parents to bring their children to work; one company, in-collaboration with other organizations, address safety concerns More

In Indonesia, Jihad Video Raises Concern

Video calls on Indonesians to join Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ISIL More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
In Thailand, Some Efforts to Improve Conditions For Migrant Laborersi
X
Steve Herman
August 01, 2014 6:22 PM
Thailand has been facing increasing international scrutiny as a hub of human trafficking and slave labor. Some of the kingdom’s companies are striving to improve working conditions, especially for the millions of migrant laborers from surrounding countries. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok takes a look at one initiative for children at construction sites
Video

Video In Thailand, Some Efforts to Improve Conditions For Migrant Laborers

Thailand has been facing increasing international scrutiny as a hub of human trafficking and slave labor. Some of the kingdom’s companies are striving to improve working conditions, especially for the millions of migrant laborers from surrounding countries. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok takes a look at one initiative for children at construction sites
Video

Video Public Raises its Voice on Power Plant Pollution

In the United States, proposed rules to cut pollution from the nation’s 600 coal-fired power plants are generating a heated debate. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, charged with writing and implementing the plan, has already received 300,000 written comments. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, another 1,600 people are lining up this week at EPA headquarters and at satellite offices around the country to give their testimony in person.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video China Investigates Powerful Former Security Chief

The public in China is welcoming the Communist Party's decision to investigate one of the country's once most powerful politicians, former domestic security chief Zhou Yongkang. Analysts say the move by President Xi Jinping is not only an effort to win more support for the party, but an essential step to furthering much needed economic reforms and removing those who would stand in the way of change. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.

AppleAndroid