Earlier last week, NASA put out a release alerting journalists to “an exciting announcement about the agency’s Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) mission.”
Given the controversial history of the project — the current administration has formally proposed cancelling it for several years and the astronomy community (and Congress) have been keep it going — it seemed to be a newsworthy event, maybe a breakthrough regarding an on-again, off-again very high profile project.
And since WFIRST was the top large mission priority of the National Academies of Sciences some years ago — guidance that NASA almost always follows — the story could reflect some change in the administration’s approach to the value of long-established scientific norms. Plus, it could mean that a space observatory with cutting-edge technology for identifying and studying exoplanets and for learning much more about dark matter and Einsteinian astrophysics might actually be launched in the 2020s.
But instead of a newsy announcement about fate of the space telescope, what NASA disclosed was that the project had been given a new name — the Nancy Grace Roman space telescope.
As one of NASA’S earliest hired and highest-ranking women, Roman spent 21 years at NASA developing and launching space-based observatories that studied the sun, deep space, and Earth’s atmosphere. She most famously worked to develop the concepts behind the Hubble Space Telescope, which just spent its 30th year in orbit.
This is a welcome and no doubt deserving honor. But it will be much less of an honor if the space telescope is never launched into orbit. And insights into the fate of WFIRST (the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope) are what really would constitute “an exciting announcement.”
What’s going on?
I have no special insights, but I think that one of the scientists on the NASA Science Live event was probably on to something when she said:
“I find it tremendously exciting that the observatory is being renamed,” said Julie McEnery, deputy project scientist for the (now) NASA Roman mission. … Read more