The Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope One for the future: The Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope is planned for launch in the mid-2020s (Courtesy: NASA)

NASA’s troubled space telescope, WFIRST, has been renamed the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope in honour of NASA’s former chief of astronomy.

The telescope has had a difficult existence so far, having twice been given zero funding by the Trump administration only for the US Congress to reinstate its budget.

In March this year, NASA approved construction of the $4bn space telescope, and the naming of the Roman Space Telescope has now cemented NASA’s commitment to the project, which ranked highest for astrophysics at the last US National Academy of Science Decadal Survey.

“It’s a mark of how far the mission has come that we are being renamed,” says Julie McEnery, who is deputy project scientist for the mission. 

Astronomer Nancy Grace Roman (1925–2018) studied astronomy at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania and in 1949 completed a PhD at the University of Chicago, where she worked at the Yerkes Observatory. She joined NASA in 1958, where she became one of the chief architects of NASA’s space telescope programme.

NASA’s WFIRST mission set for go-ahead

“She imagined the Hubble Space Telescope before it was even a concept,” says NASA associate administrator for science, Thomas Zurbuchen. “She really was one of the pioneers.”

The Roman Space Telescope is currently funded through to September 2020 with a planned launch for the mid-2020s. However, NASA has not requested funding for the telescope for 2021 as the agency seeks to devote its resources to completing the James Webb Space Telescope, which is planned for launch next year.

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