Key Individuals


Lyman Spitzer

Lyman Spitzer, Jr (1914 - 1997)

A world-renowned theoretical astrophysicist, developed the concept of a telescope in space. In 1946 — more than a decade before the launch of the first satellite — Spitzer proposed the development of a large, space-based observatory that would not be hindered by Earth's atmospheric distortion and span a broad range of wavelengths. This lofty vision ultimately became the Hubble Space Telescope.

Spitzer was instrumental in the design and development of the Hubble Space Telescope. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, he was an enthusiastic lobbyist for the telescope, both with Congress and the scientific community. Even after Hubble's launch in 1990, Spitzer remained deeply involved in the program. Not only did he make some important astronomical observations with the telescope that was essentially his brainchild, but he also spent a great deal of time — right up until the end of his life — analyzing Hubble data.

In addition to space astronomy, Spitzer's work greatly advanced knowledge in other fields, including stellar dynamics, plasma physics, and thermonuclear fusion. 


Edwin Hubble

Edwin Hubble (1889 - 1953)

The Hubble Space Telescope was named after astronomer Edwin Powell Hubble (1889–1953), who made some of the most important discoveries in modern astronomy. As an astronomer, Dr. Hubble was a late bloomer. Before discovering his passion for the stars, Dr. Hubble earned a law degree and served in World War I. However, after practicing law for one year, he decided to “chuck law for astronomy,” knowing that “even if [he] were second rate or third rate, it was astronomy that mattered.”

In the 1920s, while working at the Mt. Wilson Observatory with the most advanced technology of the time, Dr. Hubble showed that some of the numerous distant, faint clouds of light in the universe were actually entire galaxies—much like our own Milky Way. The realization that the Milky Way is only one of many galaxies forever changed the way astronomers viewed our place in the universe.

But perhaps his greatest discovery came in 1929, when Dr. Hubble determined that the farther a galaxy is from Earth, the faster it appears to move away. This notion of an "expanding" universe formed the basis of the Big Bang theory, which states that the universe began with an intense burst of energy at a single moment in time — and has been expanding ever since.

Nancy Grace Roman

Nancy Grace Roman (1925 - 2018)

Nancy Grace Roman 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, in which she set up the committee and with which she was highly involved in. Roman was very involved with the early planning and specifically, the setting up of the program structure.

NASA’s 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. Throughout her career, Roman was active public speaker and educator, and an advocate for women in the sciences.

In May 2020, NASA announced that it is naming its next-generation space telescope, the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), in honor of Dr. Nancy Grace Roman, NASA’s first Chief Astronomer, who paved the way for space telescopes focused on the broader universe. The newly named Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope (or Roman Space Telescope, for short), is set to launch in the mid-2020s. 

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