Set to launch in December 2025, the newly named Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope is NASA’s next wide-field telescope. Named after NASA’s first chief astronomer and pioneering scientist Nancy Grace Roman who, 30 years ago advocated for the development of astrophysics at NASA and eventually launched the Hubble Telescope, the Roman Space Telescope, successor to the Hubble Telescope, will honor Roman’s tireless commitment and contribute to her legacy, recognizing the incredible contributions and achievements of women in science.

More technically speaking, the Roman Space Telescope is known under the acronym WFIRST which stands for Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope, therefore considered to be Hubble’s “Wide-Eyed” cousin, and has for main aims to investigate the forces behind the universe’s expansion as well as to contribute to the search for distant planets. But before delving into the enthralling science and technology of the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope, let us first uncover the powerful figure that is Nancy Grace Roman.

The life of Nancy Grace Roman

In two words, Nancy Grace Roman was strong and determined, characteristics that allowed her to go above and beyond the expectations that her time period had towards women, transcending criticism and discouragement. Originally from Nashville, Tennessee, Nancy grew up with the dream to become an astronomer. As she joined Swarthmore College’s physics department, her determination even led certain skeptics to believe that she “might make it.”

At the age of 21, she finally earned a bachelor’s degree from the same College and successfully pursued a doctorate at The University of Chicago. After spending several years there, Roman joined NASA to serve as its first chief of staff in astronomy and relativity. She made the compromise between giving up her research. Still, She took on another admirable path: managing NASA’s astronomy-related programs and pushing them to the brink of innovation and modernity.

The Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope: Hubble’s True Successor No One's Talking About! 2
Dr. Nancy Grace Roman at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center | Image: NASA/ESA

Roman and the Hubble Space Telescope

It was Roman’s vision to enrich the sources of observation that NASA scientists had access to. This caused her to push for the first telescope in space, becoming the renowned Hubble Telescope. Unfortunately, the atmosphere was too restricting for scientists to acquire the necessary data for their experiments as it blocked out most of the incoming radiation from space. But, Roman saw the advantage; sending a telescope to space would mean unlimited observation by daytime and unfiltered access to radiation.

Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope
The Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope | Image: NASA

This pioneering vision led multiple test missions to be sent beyond the atmosphere as precursors to Hubble. Having brought back successful data, these gave Roman the necessary leverage to, in the mid-1960s, convince an entire committee to tackle the daunting task of building the most powerful space telescope ever to have been, going above and beyond any of the previous missions. Indeed, what turned out to be Hubble did not disappoint, and today, Roman is widely known as the “Mother of Hubble.”

Scientific aims and missions of the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope

From all of Hubble’s outstanding achievements and the need and drive to look beyond what we know was born the idea for the Roman Space Telescope or originally known as the WFIRST or Wide-Field Infrared Space Telescope and was set in 2010 as the next priority in astronomy for the decade. The instruments mounted on the Roman Space Telescope will provide sharper images comparable to that of Hubble’s. In addition, however, the size, field of view, and wavelengths covered will be improved, allowing it to cover near-infrared wavelengths. 

The Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope: Hubble’s True Successor No One's Talking About! 3
WFIRST rendering released by NASA in May 2020

The Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope will have a main mirror of 2.4 meters in diameter, similar to Hubble’s. In addition, it is set to be equipped with two main instruments: the Wide Field Instrument, which will allow it to capture an angle at sky 100 times greater than that of Hubble, becoming its wide-field variant. The second instrument is the coronagraph, which will render high contrast images, an advantage in searching for exoplanets. Its main science objectives will be to answer questions about dark energy, search for exoplanets, and explore the infrared section of the spectrum more in-depth. 

Finally, the Roman Space Telescope might be around the corner, having recently passed a key milestone. It is now allowed to enter development and testing phases to allow us to witness its miracles soon, hopefully.

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