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Nancy Grace Roman, ‘mother’ of Hubble Space Telescope, passes away

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May 27, 2020, 2:22 PM EDT (Updated)

Nancy Grace Roman, one of the first and brightest stars in NASA’s constellation of pioneering astronomers, and a driving force behind getting the Hubble Space Telescope out of researchers' fantasies and into actual orbit, reportedly has passed away.

Roman, 93, died Christmas Day at a Maryland hospital, according to The Washington Post. She was among the first generation of scientists and administrators at NASA following the agency's 1958 liftoff, and is widely credited with successfully persuading the research community of the benefit of a roving space telescope, which eventually yielded the successful Hubble project.

Dr. Roman (as she reportedly insisted on being called, amid a research culture still incredulous of female scientists) broke ground not only in the skies above, but here on terra firma as an early female leader in America’s budding astronomical ambitions. She became the agency’s first chief of astronomy, female or otherwise, serving in that role from 1959 until retiring in 1979. She also headed up the team that put together what NASA reportedly calls its “first successful astronomical mission” in 1962, helping launch Orbiting Solar Observatory-1, which collected data on the sun’s electromagnetic radiation.

As an administrator and scientist, Roman played a crucial role in reconciling the views of penny-pinching lawmakers with those of the research community as the Hubble project began to come together. She reportedly helped sell the idea of a deep space telescope by making it easily relatable. “Lobbying for early funding for Hubble, whose price tag reached $1.5 billion, she recalled arguing that every American, for the cost of one ticket to the movies, could be assured years of scientific discoveries,” reports the Post.

First launched in 1990, and still sending back celestial images that are stellar in every sense of the word, the Hubble has carried Roman’s legacy far beyond the confines of the world we know. And even though Roman was already 11 years retired when the Hubble finally entered its first orbit, she reportedly remained deeply invested in its success for the rest of her life.

“In 1994, when NASA announced the repair of a faulty mirror and other problems that had caused its early photographs to be blurry,” the Post reports, “Dr. Roman was in the audience, knitting.”