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Nancy Grace Roman (May 16, 1925 – December 25, 2018) was an American astronomer and one of the first female executives at NASA. She is known to many as the "Mother of Hubble" for her role in planning the Hubble Space Telescope. Throughout her career, Roman was also an active public speaker and educator, and an advocate for women in the sciences.

Nancy Roman
Nancy Grace Roman 2015.jpg
Roman in 2015
Nancy Grace Roman

(1925-05-16)May 16, 1925
DiedDecember 25, 2018(2018-12-25) (aged 93)
ResidenceWashington, D.C., U.S.
Alma materSwarthmore College, University of Chicago
Known forPlanning of the Hubble Space Telescope
Scientific career
InstitutionsYerkes Observatory, University of Chicago, NASA, Naval Research Laboratory


Personal lifeEdit

Nancy Grace Roman was born in Nashville, Tennessee, to music teacher Georgia Smith Roman and geophysicist Irwin Roman. Because of her father’s work, the family relocated to Oklahoma soon after Roman's birth. Roman and her parents moved to Houston, Texas, New Jersey, and later on, to Michigan and Nevada. About age 12 the family moved to Baltimore when Nancy Grace's father, Irwin, was hired as Senior Geophysicist at the Baltimore, MD office of the US Geological Survey[1]. After 1955, she lived in Washington, D.C..[2] Roman considered her parents to be major influences in her interest in science.[3] Outside her work, Roman enjoyed going to lectures and concerts and was active in the American Association of University Women.[2] She died on December 25, 2018 following a long illness.[4][5][6]


When Roman was eleven years old, she showed interest in astronomy by forming an astronomy club among her classmates in Nevada. She and her classmates got together once a week and learned about constellations from books. Although discouraged by those around her, Roman knew by the time she was in high school that she wanted to pursue her passion for astronomy.[7][8] She attended Western High School in Baltimore where she participated in an accelerated program and was graduated in three years.[3]

Roman attended Swarthmore College in 1946 where she received her bachelor of arts in astronomy. While she studied there, she worked at the Sproul Observatory. After that she went on to receive her Ph.D. in the same field at the University of Chicago in 1949. She stayed at the university for six more years working at the Yerkes Observatory, sometimes traveling to the McDonald Observatory in Texas to work as a research associate with William Wilson Morgan.[9] The research position was not permanent, so Roman became an instructor and later, an assistant professor.[3] Roman eventually left her job at the university because of the paucity of tenured research positions available to women at the time.[7] Roman continued to be involved with her alma maters, however. She served on the Swarthmore board of observers from 1980 to 1988.[10]

Professional workEdit

Roman with a model of the Orbiting Solar Observatory

While working at Yerkes Observatory of the University of Chicago, Roman observed the star AG Draconis and serendipitously discovered that its emission spectrum had completely changed since earlier observations.[11] She later credited the publication of her discovery as a stroke of luck that substantially raised her profile within the astronomical community, contributing to her career progression.[12]

After leaving the University of Chicago, Roman went to the Naval Research Laboratory and entered the radio astronomy program.[13] Roman’s work at the NRL included using nonthermal radio source spectra and conducting geodetic work.[3] In the program she became the head of the microwave spectroscopy section.[7]


Roman, Control Console, 1970s

At a lecture by Harold Urey, Roman was approached by Jack Clark, who asked whether she knew someone interested in creating a program for space astronomy at NASA. She interpreted that as an invitation to apply,[12] and was the applicant who accepted the position.[3] Roman was the first chief of astronomy in NASA's Office of Space Science, setting up the initial program; she was the first woman to hold an executive position at the space agency.[13] Part of her job was traveling throughout the country and giving lectures at astronomy departments, where she discussed the fact that the program was in development. Roman also was looking to find out what other astronomers wanted to study and to educate them on the advantages of observing from space.[3][9][12] She was chief of astronomy and solar physics at NASA from 1961 to 1963. She held various other positions in NASA, including chief of astronomy and relativity.[10]

During her employment at NASA, Roman developed and prepared the budgets for various programs and she organized their scientific participation. She was involved in launching three orbiting solar observatories and three small astronomical satellites. These satellites used ultraviolet and x-ray technology for observing the sun, space, and the sky. She also oversaw the launches of other orbiting astronomical observatories that used the optical and ultraviolet features of the orbiting astronomical observatory, working with Dixon Ashworth. Other projects she oversaw included four geodetic satellites. She planned for other smaller programs such as the Astronomy Rocket Program, the Scout Probe to measure the relativistic gravity redshift, programs for high energy astronomy observatories, and other experiments on Spacelab, Gemini, Apollo, and Skylab.[14] Roman worked with Jack Holtz, too, on the small astronomy satellite and Don Burrowbridge on the space telescope.[3]

The last program in which she set up the committee and with which she was highly involved, was the Hubble Telescope. Roman was very involved with the early planning and specifically, the setting up of the program structure. Because of her contribution, she often is called the “Mother of Hubble".[14] NASA’s then chief astronomer, Edward J. Weiler, who worked with Roman at the agency, called her 'the mother of the Hubble Space Telescope'. He said, “which is often forgotten by our younger generation of astronomers who make their careers by using Hubble Space Telescope." Weiler added, "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.”[9]

After working for NASA for twenty-one years, she continued her work until 1997 for contractors who supported the Goddard Space Flight Center.[15] Roman was also a consultant for ORI, Inc. from 1980 to 1988.[10]

As a woman in scienceEdit

Like most women in the sciences in the mid-twentieth century, Roman was faced with problems related to male domination in science and technology and the roles perceived as appropriate for women in that time period. She was discouraged from going into astronomy by people around her.[12] In an interview with Voice of America, Roman remembered asking her high school guidance counselor if she could take second year algebra instead of Latin. "She looked down her nose at me and sneered, 'What kind of lady would take mathematics instead of Latin?' That was the sort of reception I got most of the way", recalled Roman.[8] At one time, she was one of very few women in NASA, being the only woman with an executive position.[9] She attended courses entitled, "Women in Management", in Michigan and at Penn State to learn about issues regarding being a woman in a management position. However, Roman stated in an interview in 1980 that the courses were dissatisfying and addressed women’s interests rather than women’s problems.[3]

Research and publicationsEdit

One of Roman’s earliest publications was in 1955, after her work in the Yerkes and McDonald Observatories, in the Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series and it was a catalog of high velocity stars. She documented new “spectral types photoelectric magnitudes and colors and spectroscopic parallaxes for about 600 high-velocity stars.”[16] Then in 1959, Roman wrote a paper on the detection of extraterrestrial planets.[3] Roman discovered that stars made of hydrogen and helium move faster than stars composed of other heavier elements. One of her other discoveries was finding that not all stars that were common were the same age. That was proven by comparing hydrogen lines of the low dispersion spectra in the stars. Roman noticed that the stars with the stronger lines moved closer to the center of the Milky Way and the others moved in more elliptical patterns, off of the plane of the galaxy.[2] She also did research and published on the subjects of locating constellations from their 1875.0 positions, explaining how she discovered this ,[17] and a paper on the Ursa Major Moving Group for her thesis.[18]


  • Federal Woman’s Award – 1962[10]
  • One of 100 Most Important Young People, Life magazine – 1962[14]
  • Citation for Public Service, Colorado Women's College – 1966
  • Ninetieth Anniversary Award, Women's Education and Industrial Union (Boston) – 1967
  • Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal NASA – 1969
  • NASA Outstanding Scientific Leadership Award – 1978 [19]
  • Fellow, American Astronautical Society – 1978
  • William Randolph Lovelace II, American Astronaut Association – 1980[10]
  • Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science – 1989
  • Lifetime Achievement Award – Women in Aerospace – 2010
  • Woman of Distinction from American Association of University Women, Maryland – 2016
  • Honorary Doctorates from Russell Sage College (1966), Hood College (1969), Bates College (1971) and Swarthmore College (1976)
  • The asteroid 2516 Roman is named in her honor
  • The fellowship, The Nancy Grace Roman Technology Fellowship in Astrophysics, of NASA has been named for her [13]
  • In 2017, a "Women of NASA" LEGO set went on sale featuring (among other things) mini-figurines of Roman, Margaret Hamilton, Mae Jemison, and Sally Ride [20]
  • Episode 113 of the "Hubblecast" podcast "Nancy Roman – The Mother of Hubble" was created in her honor, a video presentation that documents her career and explores her contribution to science [21]


  1. ^ United States Census, 1940, database with images, FamilySearch : accessed 8 July 2019, Maryland > Baltimore City > Baltimore City, Baltimore City, Ward 28 > 4-887 Baltimore City Ward 28 (Tract 28-4 - part) > image 5 of 36; citing Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940, NARA digital publication T627. Records of the Bureau of the Census, 1790 - 2007, RG 29. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 2012.
  2. ^ a b c Harvey, Samantha. "Nancy Roman: Chief of NASA's Astronomy and Relativity Programs". NASA. Retrieved November 10, 2013.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i DeVorkin, David (August 19, 1980) Interview of Nancy G. Roman, Niels Bohr Library Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA
  4. ^ Associated Press (December 27, 2018). "Nancy Grace Roman, involved with Hubble telescope, dies". Associated Press.
  5. ^ Langer, Emily (December 28, 2018). "Nancy Grace Roman, astronomer celebrated as 'mother' of Hubble, dies at 93". The Washington Post. Retrieved December 31, 2018.
  6. ^ Lewis, Russell (December 30, 2018). "Nancy Grace Roman, 'Mother Of Hubble' Space Telescope, Has Died, At Age 93". National Public Radio. Retrieved December 31, 2018.
  7. ^ a b c Armstrong, Mabel (2006). Women Astronomers: Reaching for the Stars. Stone Pine Press.
  8. ^ a b Goldstein, Richard (December 30, 2018). "Nancy Roman, 'Mother of the Hubble' Telescope, Dies at 93". New York Times. Retrieved January 1, 2019.
  9. ^ a b c d "Mother of Hubble Always Aimed for Stars." Voice of America. (August 14, 2011).
  10. ^ a b c d e "Roman, Nancy Grace." in American Men & Women of Science: A Biographical Directory of Today’s Leaders in Physical, Biological, and Related Sciences. Ed. Andrea Kovacs Henderson. 30th ed. Vol. 6. Detroit: Gale, 2012. 339. Gale Virtual Reference Library.
  11. ^ Roman, Nancy G. (1953). "The Spectrum of BD+67°922". The Astrophysical Journal. 117: 467. Bibcode:1953ApJ...117..467R. doi:10.1086/145717.
  12. ^ a b c d Roman, N. G. (2016). "Following my lucky star". Science. 354 (6317): 1346. doi:10.1126/science.354.6317.1346. PMID 27940878.
  13. ^ a b c Brown, Dwayne (August 30, 2011). "NASA Names Astrophysics Fellowship for Iconic Woman Astronomer". RELEASE: 11-277. NASA. Retrieved August 30, 2011.
  14. ^ a b c Netting, Ruth. "Nancy Grace Roman Bio." NASA Science For Researchers. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, August 29, 2011. Web. November 5, 2013.
  15. ^ Malerbo, Dan (March 19, 2009). "NANCY GRACE ROMAN." Pittsburgh Post – Gazette.
  16. ^ Roman, Nancy G. (1955). "A Catalogue of High Velocity Stars". Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series. 2: 195. Bibcode:1955ApJS....2..195R. doi:10.1086/190021.
  17. ^ Roman, Nancy (1987). "Identification of a Constellation from a Position". Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. 99: 695–699. Bibcode:1987PASP...99..695R. doi:10.1086/132034.
  18. ^ Roman, Nancy G. (1949). "The Ursa Major Group". Astrophysical Journal. 110: 205. Bibcode:1949ApJ...110..205R. doi:10.1086/145199.
  19. ^ NASA Headquaters (1978) Published chronological list of awardees, 1959 ff, page 13, NASA Agency Award Program, Washington DC, USA
  20. ^ Science (June 22, 2017). "Women of NASA Lego toy set now on sale for $24.99". Business Insider. Retrieved November 1, 2017.
  21. ^ NASA (October 8, 2018). "Nancy Roman – The Mother of Hubble". NASA. Retrieved November 11, 2018.

Further readingEdit

Shearer, Benjamin F. (1997). Notable women in the physical sciences : a biographical dictionary. Westport, Conn. [u.a.]: Greenwood Press. ISBN 978-0313293030. OCLC 433367323.

External linksEdit