Nancy Roman

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

(1925-05-16)May 16, 1925
DiedDecember 25, 2018(2018-12-25) (aged 93)
Residence Washington, D.C., U.S.
Nationality American
Alma mater Swarthmore College, University of Chicago
Known forPlanning of the Hubble Space Telescope
Scientific career
Fields Astronomy
Institutions Yerkes Observatory, University of Chicago, NASA, Naval Research Laboratory

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.

NASA space-related agency of the United States government

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is an independent agency of the United States Federal Government responsible for the civilian space program, as well as aeronautics and aerospace research.

Hubble Space Telescope Space telescope

The Hubble Space Telescope (HST) is a space telescope that was launched into low Earth orbit in 1990 and remains in operation. It was not the first space telescope, but it is one of the largest and most versatile and is well known as both a vital research tool and a public relations boon for astronomy. The HST is named after astronomer Edwin Hubble and is one of NASA's Great Observatories, along with the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, the Chandra X-ray Observatory, and the Spitzer Space Telescope.

Women in science Women have contributed significantly to the field of science.

Women have made significant contributions to science from the earliest times. Historians with an interest in gender and science have illuminated the scientific endeavors and accomplishments of women, the barriers they have faced, and the strategies implemented to have their work peer-reviewed and accepted in major scientific journals and other publications. The historical, critical and sociological study of these issues has become an academic discipline in its own right.


Personal life

Nancy G. 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. After 1955, she lived in Washington, D.C.. [1] Roman considered her parents to be major influences in her interest in science. [2] Outside her work, Roman enjoyed going to lectures and concerts and was active in the American Association of University Women. [1] She died on December 25, 2018 following a long illness. [3] [4] [5]

Nashville, Tennessee State capital and consolidated city-county in Tennessee, United States

Nashville is the capital and most populous city of the U.S. state of Tennessee. The city is the county seat of Davidson County and is located on the Cumberland River. The city's population ranks 24th in the U.S. According to 2017 estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, the total consolidated city-county population stood at 691,243. The "balance" population, which excludes semi-independent municipalities within Davidson County, was 667,560 in 2017.

Oklahoma State of the United States of America

Oklahoma is a state in the South Central region of the United States, bordered by Kansas on the north, Missouri on the northeast, Arkansas on the east, Texas on the south, New Mexico on the west, and Colorado on the northwest. It is the 20th-most extensive and the 28th-most populous of the fifty United States. The state's name is derived from the Choctaw words okla and humma, meaning "red people". It is also known informally by its nickname, "The Sooner State", in reference to the non-Native settlers who staked their claims on land before the official opening date of lands in the western Oklahoma Territory or before the Indian Appropriations Act of 1889, which dramatically increased European-American settlement in the eastern Indian Territory. Oklahoma Territory and Indian Territory were merged into the State of Oklahoma when it became the 46th state to enter the union on November 16, 1907. Its residents are known as Oklahomans, and its capital and largest city is Oklahoma City.

New Jersey State of the United States of America

New Jersey is a state in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern regions of the United States. It is located on a peninsula, bordered on the north and east by the state of New York, particularly along the extent of the length of New York City on its western edge; on the east, southeast, and south by the Atlantic Ocean; on the west by the Delaware River and Pennsylvania; and on the southwest by the Delaware Bay and Delaware. New Jersey is the fourth-smallest state by area but the 11th-most populous, with 9 million residents as of 2017, and the most densely populated of the 50 U.S. states; its biggest city is Newark. New Jersey lies completely within the combined statistical areas of New York City and Philadelphia. New Jersey was the second-wealthiest U.S. state by median household income as of 2017.


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. [6] [7] She attended Western High School in Baltimore where she participated in an accelerated program and was graduated in three years. [2]

Astronomy natural science that deals with the study of celestial objects

Astronomy is a natural science that studies celestial objects and phenomena. It applies mathematics, physics, and chemistry in an effort to explain the origin of those objects and phenomena and their evolution. Objects of interest include planets, moons, stars, nebulae, galaxies, and comets; the phenomena also includes supernova explosions, gamma ray bursts, quasars, blazars, pulsars, and cosmic microwave background radiation. More generally, all phenomena that originate outside Earth's atmosphere are within the purview of astronomy. A branch of astronomy called cosmology is the study of the Universe as a whole.

Western High School (Baltimore) public high school in Baltimore, Maryland, United States

Western High School is the oldest public all-girls high school remaining in the United States. It is the third-oldest public high school in the state of Maryland and part of the Baltimore City Public Schools. Western High was named a "National Blue Ribbon School" of Excellence by the U.S. Department of Education in 2009 and a "Silver Medal High School" by the news magazine U.S. News and World Report in 2012.

Baltimore Largest city in Maryland

Baltimore is the largest city in the state of Maryland within the United States. Baltimore was established by the Constitution of Maryland as an independent city in 1729. With a population of 602,495 in 2018, Baltimore is the largest such independent city in the United States. As of 2017, the population of the Baltimore metropolitan area was estimated to be just under 2.802 million, making it the 21th largest metropolitan area in the country. Baltimore is located about 40 miles (60 km) northeast of Washington, D.C., making it a principal city in the Washington-Baltimore combined statistical area (CSA), the fourth-largest CSA in the nation, with a calculated 2018 population of 9,797,063.

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. [8] The research position was not permanent, so Roman became an instructor and later, an assistant professor. [2] Roman eventually left her job at the university because of the paucity of tenured research positions available to women at the time. [6] Roman continued to be involved with her alma maters, however. She served on the Swarthmore board of observers from 1980 to 1988. [9]

Swarthmore College liberal arts college in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania

Swarthmore College is a private liberal arts college in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. Founded in 1864, with its first classes being held in 1869, Swarthmore was one of the earliest coeducational colleges in the United States. It was established to be a college "...under the care of Friends, at which an education may be obtained equal to that of the best institutions of learning in our country." By 1906, Swarthmore had dropped its religious affiliation and became officially non-sectarian.

Sproul Observatory

Sproul Observatory was an astronomical observatory owned and operated by Swarthmore College. It was located in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, United States, and named after William Cameron Sproul, the 27th Governor of Pennsylvania, who graduated from Swarthmore in 1891. The 24" telescope was moved from Sproul Observatory to Bentonville, Arkansas in July 2017

University of Chicago Private research university in Chicago, Illinois, United States

The University of Chicago is a private research university in Chicago, Illinois. Founded in 1890 by John D. Rockefeller, the school is located on a 217-acre campus in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood, near Lake Michigan. The University of Chicago holds top-ten positions in various national and international rankings.

Professional work

Nancy Roman with a model of the Orbiting Solar Observatory Dr. Nancy Roman - GPN-2002-000212.jpg
Nancy 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. [10] 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. [11]

Yerkes Observatory Astronomical observatory in Wisconsin

Yerkes Observatory is an astronomical observatory in Williams Bay, Wisconsin operated by the University of Chicago Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics. It closed public operations in 2018. The observatory, which called itself "the birthplace of modern astrophysics", was founded in 1897 by astronomer George Ellery Hale and financed by businessman Charles T. Yerkes. It represented a shift in the thinking about observatories, from their being mere housing for telescopes and observers, to the early-20th-century concept of observation equipment integrated with laboratory space for physics and chemistry.

AG Draconis is a binary star system in the northern constellation of Draco. It consists of a giant star and a white dwarf that revolve around each other every 550 days. It has a baseline apparent magnitude of around 9.8 and flares up to around magnitude 7.3 and is one of the most-studied of symbiotic star systems and its variations in brightness have been observed for 124 years. The outbursts occur every 15 years and last for 3–6 years.

Emission spectrum Frequencies of light emitted by atoms or chemical compounds

The emission spectrum of a chemical element or chemical compound is the spectrum of frequencies of electromagnetic radiation emitted due to an atom or molecule making a transition from a high energy state to a lower energy state. The photon energy of the emitted photon is equal to the energy difference between the two states. There are many possible electron transitions for each atom, and each transition has a specific energy difference. This collection of different transitions, leading to different radiated wavelengths, make up an emission spectrum. Each element's emission spectrum is unique. Therefore, spectroscopy can be used to identify the elements in matter of unknown composition. Similarly, the emission spectra of molecules can be used in chemical analysis of substances.

After leaving the University of Chicago, Roman went to the Naval Research Laboratory and entered the radio astronomy program. [12] Roman’s work at the NRL included using nonthermal radio source spectra and conducting geodetic work. [2] In the program she became the head of the microwave spectroscopy section. [6]

Radio astronomy subfield of astronomy that studies celestial objects at radio frequencies

Radio astronomy is a subfield of astronomy that studies celestial objects at radio frequencies. The first detection of radio waves from an astronomical object was in 1932, when Karl Jansky at Bell Telephone Laboratories observed radiation coming from the Milky Way. Subsequent observations have identified a number of different sources of radio emission. These include stars and galaxies, as well as entirely new classes of objects, such as radio galaxies, quasars, pulsars, and masers. The discovery of the cosmic microwave background radiation, regarded as evidence for the Big Bang theory, was made through radio astronomy.

Geodesy The science of the geometric shape, orientation in space, and gravitational field of Earth

Geodesy, is the Earth science of accurately measuring and understanding Earth's geometric shape, orientation in space, and gravitational field. The field also incorporates studies of how these properties change over time and equivalent measurements for other planets. Geodynamical phenomena include crustal motion, tides, and polar motion, which can be studied by designing global and national control networks, applying space and terrestrial techniques, and relying on datums and coordinate systems.

Microwave spectroscopy is the spectroscopy method that employs microwaves, i.e. electromagnetic radiation at GHz frequencies, for the study of matter.


Nancy Roman, Control Console, 1970s Nancy Roman Control Console.jpg
Nancy 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, [11] and was the applicant who accepted the position. [2] 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. [12] 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. [2] [8] [11] 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. [9]

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. [13] Roman worked with Jack Holtz, too, on the small astronomy satellite and Don Burrowbridge on the space telescope. [2]

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". [13] 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.” [8]

After working for NASA for twenty-one years, she continued her work until 1997 for contractors who supported the Goddard Space Flight Center. [14] Roman was also a consultant for ORI, Inc. from 1980 to 1988. [9]

As a woman in science

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. [11] 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. [7] At one time, she was one of very few women in NASA, being the only woman with an executive position. [8] 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. [2]

Research and publications

One of Nancy 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.” [15] Then in 1959, Roman wrote a paper on the detection of extraterrestrial planets. [2] 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. [1] She also did research and published on the subjects of locating constellations from their 1875.0 positions, explaining how she discovered this , [16] and a paper on the Ursa Major Moving Group for her thesis. [17]


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  1. 1 2 3 Harvey, Samantha. "Nancy Roman: Chief of NASA's Astronomy and Relativity Programs". NASA . Retrieved November 10, 2013.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 DeVorkin, David (August 19, 1980) Interview of Nancy G. Roman, Niels Bohr Library Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA
  3. Associated Press (December 27, 2018). "Nancy Grace Roman, involved with Hubble telescope, dies". Associated Press.
  4. Langer, Emily (December 28, 2018). "Nancy Grace Roman, astronomer celebrated as 'mother' of Hubble, dies at 93". The Washington Post. Retrieved December 31, 2018.
  5. 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.
  6. 1 2 3 Armstrong, Mabel (2006). Women Astronomers: Reaching for the Stars. Stone Pine Press.
  7. 1 2 Goldstein, Richard (December 30, 2018). "Nancy Roman, 'Mother of the Hubble' Telescope, Dies at 93". New York Times. Retrieved January 1, 2019.
  8. 1 2 3 4 "Mother of Hubble Always Aimed for Stars." Voice of America. (August 14, 2011).
  9. 1 2 3 4 5 "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.
  10. Roman, Nancy G. (1953). "The Spectrum of BD+67°922". The Astrophysical Journal. 117: 467. Bibcode:1953ApJ...117..467R. doi:10.1086/145717.
  11. 1 2 3 4 Roman, N. G. (2016). "Following my lucky star". Science. 354 (6317): 1346. doi:10.1126/science.354.6317.1346. PMID   27940878.
  12. 1 2 3 Brown, Dwayne (August 30, 2011). "NASA Names Astrophysics Fellowship for Iconic Woman Astronomer". RELEASE: 11-277. NASA. Retrieved August 30, 2011.
  13. 1 2 3 Netting, Ruth. "Nancy Grace Roman Bio." NASA Science For Researchers. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, August 29, 2011. Web. November 5, 2013.
  14. Malerbo, Dan (March 19, 2009). "NANCY GRACE ROMAN." Pittsburgh Post – Gazette.
  15. Roman, Nancy G. (1955). "A Catalogue of High Velocity Stars". Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series. 2: 195. Bibcode:1955ApJS....2..195R. doi:10.1086/190021.
  16. 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.
  17. Roman, Nancy G. (1949). "The Ursa Major Group". Astrophysical Journal. 110: 205. Bibcode:1949ApJ...110..205R. doi:10.1086/145199.
  18. Science (June 22, 2017). "Women of NASA Lego toy set now on sale for $24.99". Business Insider . Retrieved November 1, 2017.
  19. NASA (October 8, 2018). "Nancy Roman – The Mother of Hubble". NASA . Retrieved November 11, 2018.

Further reading

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