NASA renames WFIRST space telescope in honor of female astronomer

(ORDO NEWS) — On May 20, NASA announced the renaming of a large space telescope under development in honor of an astronomer who supervised the agency’s early work in space astronomy, although the mission is still in danger of being canceled.

The agency announced that the Wide Angle Infrared Observation Telescope (WFIRST) will now be known as the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope, which was gone in 2018. She joined NASA in 1959 as the first head of one of the departments, working in the agency for 20 years.

While at NASA, she led the development of the first series of astrophysical missions, orbiting astronomical observatories, launched from 1966 to 1972, to demonstrate that spacecraft are capable of making observations impossible from the earth.

In the mid-1960s, she also took the initiative to create the so-called large space telescope, which later turned into the Hubble Space Telescope. These initial efforts led her to be called the “Hubble mother,” a title bestowed on her by Ed Weiler, a former Hubble mission chief scientist who later became NASA’s deputy administrator for science.

“It was thanks to the leadership and vision of Nancy Grace that NASA’s pioneer in astrophysics helped launch Hubble, the world’s most powerful and powerful space telescope,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine in a statement. “I can’t think of a better name for WFIRST, which will succeed NASA’s Hubble and Webb telescopes.”

“Dr. Roman really deserves to be constantly connected with this amazing mission that she really helped to carry out,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s current deputy administrator for science, in a pre-recorded video on NASA Science Live to announce a new name for WFIRST. “I am so glad that this name was inherited by this amazing person.”

The Roman space telescope will fly with a 2.4 meter diameter mirror, the same as Hubble, but with a much wider field of view. This mission, the largest space mission of the 2010 astrophysical survey, will study dark energy and exoplanets.

“This is a sign of how far the mission has gone,” said Julie Mackineri, associate research associate at Roman Space Telescope, in a NASA video.

However, the Roman space telescope has an uncertain future. Faced with the prospect of significant cost overruns in the early stages of its development and despite cost-saving measures, such as using a primary mirror donated by NASA to the National Intelligence Agency, the agency insisted on a mission change in 2017 to receive $ 3.2 billion in funding.

This included converting one of the main tools of the telescope, the coronagraph, which blocks starlight to allow observation of exoplanets and dust disks, into technology with less stringent and costly requirements.

Despite these efforts to cut costs, NASA was not particularly keen to finance the mission in its last three budgets for fiscal 2019, 2020, and 2021. “The administration is not ready to start building another multi-billion-dollar telescope until Webb is successfully launched and deployed,” the NASA budget request for fiscal year 2021 says in February.

Work on the Roman space telescope continued in the face of this uncertainty. On March 2, 2020, NASA announced that the mission passed an audit called Key Decision Point C, with a base launch cost of $ 3.2 billion. The cost of the inclusion of five years of scientific work, as well as the demonstration of coronagraph technology, which is taken into account separately, increases the cost to $ 3.934 billion.

At a meeting of the Committee on Astronomy and Astrophysics on March 31, Paul Herz, director of NASA’s astrophysical department, said that there were some glitches in the work on WIFRST because the pandemic stopped everything but the activities necessary for the mission at NASA centers. However, some work on mission elements at contractors’ facilities is ongoing.

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