Nancy Grace Roman was one of the first women to work at NASA and a central figures in the development of the Hubble Telescope.
She was born in Nashville, Tennessee on May 16, 1925.
As a child, she was drawn to the study of outer space.’I was just fascinated.’ Roman said in a short NASA documentary.
‘I blamed my mother because she used to take me out and show me the constellations and show me the Northern Lights and things like that.’
In fifth grade she organized an astronomy club with her fellow classmates, and by seventh grade she decided to pursue a career as an astronomer, knowing she would face resistance in the male-dominated field.
‘What lady would take mathematics instead of Latin?’ she remembered a high school counsellor telling her when she shared her ambitions.
Roman earned a Bachelor of Science in astronomy from Swarthmore College, and a PhD at the University of Chicago.
She had hoped to continue a career as an academic researcher, but realized it was unlikely she would ever qualify for tenure or have access to the same resources her male colleagues did.
‘I certainly did not receive any encouragement,’ she would recall. ‘I was told from the beginning that women could not be scientists.’
In 1955 decided to take a job with the US Naval Research Laboratory, and in 1959, she became one of the first group of workers to join NASA, as chief of astronomy and relativity with the Office of Space Science, just six months after the agency had been formed.
As NASA, Roman pushed to develop an orbital telescope to measure cosmic radiation in space that would otherwise be impossible to detect on Earth due to atmospheric interference.
Nancy Roman Grace had initially wanted to focus on academic research, but after realizing sexism would be a major obstacle to securing tenure, she went to work for the US Naval Research Laboratory, and then NASA
She contributed to the development of four Orbiting Astronomical Observatories between 1966 and 1972, and helped champion the International Ultraviolet Explorer, a joint project between NASA and the European Space Agency that launched in 1978 and collected data used in the first major study of stellar winds.
Roman also played a central role in persuading congress to fund the Hubble Telescope’s $36million development.
In 1998, Hubble’s chief scientist Ed Weiler described her as ‘the mother of the Hubble Space Telescope.’
She died on December 25, 2018 of natural causes–at the age of 93.