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NASA renames WFIRST space telescope after astronomer Nancy Grace Roman, the 'Mother of Hubble'

NASA has renamed its Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (opens in new tab) (WFIRST), a flagship observatory set to launch in 2025, to honor the renowned astronomer Nancy Grace Roman, also known as the "mother of Hubble."

The Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope — or Roman Space Telescope for short — will help astronomers answer some of the biggest questions of cosmology, like why the universe is expanding at an accelerating rate. 

By studying how the distribution of galaxies throughout the universe has changed over time, the telescope will reveal how the universe's expansion is driven by dark energy (opens in new tab), a mysterious form of energy that makes up roughly two-thirds of the energy in the universe. The mission will also find and study exoplanets (opens in new tab), or worlds orbiting stars beyond our solar system. 

Video: Meet the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope (opens in new tab)
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WFIRST moves forward as Trump administration tries to scrap it again

With its 7.9-foot (2.4 meters) primary mirror, the Roman Space Telescope is about the same size as the Hubble Space Telescope (opens in new tab). It will be able to capture deep-space images with the same resolution as Hubble, but its field of view is 100 times wider, allowing it to image more of the sky in a shorter amount of time. 

Nancy Grace Roman earned the nickname "the mother of Hubble (opens in new tab)" for her pioneering work on the iconic Hubble telescope, which launched into orbit in 1990. She became NASA's first chief of astronomy in 1960 and was the first woman to hold an executive position at NASA. She oversaw the planning of Hubble's mission and led the drive to convince Congress to fund it. 

"It is because of Nancy Grace Roman's leadership and vision that NASA became a pioneer in astrophysics and launched Hubble, the world's most powerful and productive space telescope," NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement (opens in new tab). "I can think of no better name for WFIRST, which will be the successor to NASA’s Hubble and Webb Telescopes." 

An artist's impression of NASA's Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope, formerly known as the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST). (Image credit: NASA)

Although Roman retired from NASA in 1979, long before the WFIRST mission was even proposed, her work with Hubble laid the foundation for future space telescopes, like the James Webb Space Telescope (opens in new tab) and the newly named Roman Space Telescope. 

"Dr. Roman really deserves to be permanently associated with this amazing mission that she really helped enable in a direct fashion, and I'm so delighted to have that name there as a lasting legacy to this amazing person," Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate, said during a live webcast of the announcement on NASA TV today (May 20). "Nancy Grace Roman deserves a place in the heavens she studied and opened for so many," he added.

Roman passed away in 2018 (opens in new tab) at the age of 95. She was immortalized as a minifigure in Lego's "Women of NASA" building set (opens in new tab), which was released in 2017. 

Email Hanneke Weitering at hweitering@space.com or follow her @hannekescience. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.
 

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Hanneke Weitering is an editor at Space.com with 10 years of experience in science journalism. She has previously written for Scholastic Classroom Magazines, MedPage Today and The Joint Institute for Computational Sciences at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. After studying physics at the University of Tennessee in her hometown of Knoxville, she earned her graduate degree in Science, Health and Environmental Reporting (SHERP) from New York University. Hanneke joined the Space.com team in 2016 as a staff writer and producer, covering topics including spaceflight and astronomy. She currently lives in Seattle, home of the Space Needle, with her cat and two snakes. In her spare time, Hanneke enjoys exploring the Rocky Mountains, basking in nature and looking for dark skies to gaze at the cosmos.