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NASA renames planet-finding telescope after woman trailblazer

NASA has renamed the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope mission after one of the agency’s trailblazing women. 

The Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope — which will search for planets outside our solar system — is named after the first chief of astronomy in NASA’s Office of Space Science, She was also the first woman to hold an executive position at NASA.

Roman worked at NASA for 21 years and helped to plan the Hubble telescope, including establishing the Hubble program’s structure. She is known as “the mother of Hubble” because of her advocacy and extensive work with the telescope. 

“She believed she could be an astronomer during a time when there were so many barriers for women in science,” said Elisa Quintana, an astrophysicist at NASA, during a NASA livestream announcing the telescope’s new name. “She believed in investing in missions that would be useful for future generations.”

Roman began working at NASA in 1959. She died in 2018.

Artist’s illustration of the WFIRST spacecraft.
Artist’s illustration of the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

The Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope will launch in the mid-2020s to help astronomers try to understand dark energy, which makes up about two-thirds of the entire universe but is a mystery to astronomers. 

The telescope will also search for exoplanets by measuring light from a billion galaxies throughout the mission’s lifetime. It has the technology to capture a sky area over 100 times larger than the Hubble telescope, which will allow it to discover more exoplanets than we ever have before.

This tool could be used to identify not only small, distant planets, but also other cosmic bodies like brown dwarfs and black holes.

The Nancy Grace Roman Telescope joins other space telescopes and instruments named after women, including the Vera C. Rubin Observatory, the Annie Maunder Astrographic Telescope, and the Scope telescope named after Henrietta Scope. NASA’s GRAIL lunar impact site is named after Sally Ride, America’s first woman in space. 

NASA plans to send the first woman to the moon by 2024 as part of its Artemis mission. 

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