Four Successful Women for the Hubble’s Success

hubble's success

From ancient Babylonians to Chinese to Greeks, the night sky was always a fascination to us humans. The curiosity caused by these moving and unmoving celestial objects remained untouched for centuries until Galileo Galilei invented the telescope and decided to have a closer look at them. Since then for many centuries, telescopes had been modified and used for observations. But their performance was limited because the earth’s atmosphere often blurred, and distorted light coming from distant stars. That’s why Prof. Lyman Spitzer pointed out the importance of a space telescope in 1946, soon after World War II ended. However, it took another few decades to put this idea into a reality.  Among countless people, there are four significant women who contributed greatly to the Hubble’s success; without whom the images of deep space would be just a dream.

Hubble’s Mother: Dr. Nancy Grace Roman

She stepped into the field of astronomy at a time that women didn’t dare choose a career in science. Her journey as an astronomer was full of obstacles, including being underpaid than the men at the same level as an assistant professor.

I was told by many people that a woman could not be an astronomer”, she stated during an awarding ceremony. “I’m glad I ignored them.”

Four Successful Women for the Hubble's Success
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Being invited to NASA in 1959 can be considered as a turning point in her life. The welcoming environment at NASA, which was then only 6 months old, accepted her as one of their team without a problem. In early 1960, Dr. Roman was appointed as the first Chief of Astronomy there. At that time, NASA was teaming up with Prof. Spitzer and the National Academy of Science to build a Large Space Telescope.

Working on a serious project like an extraterrestrial telescope, teamwork with world-class astronomers and engineers, who had different educations, backgrounds, and vocabulary was critical. “I felt that one of my roles was acting as an interpreter between scientists and engineers”, she said. Acing that difficult task within around two decades gave her the name “Mother of Hubble”.

The initial estimation of a large space telescope was around $500 million, to which funding was denied. But the large-scale lobbying by Dr. Roman and other astronomers, and cutting the cost by a good half made the proposal accepted, finally in 1977. Dr. Nancy Grace Roman took early retirement in 1979 from NASA but continued to empower women in science until she passed away in 2018.

Dr. Kathryn Sullivan: Deployment in Process, to Success

The constructions of the large space telescope, which was now known as “the Hubble Space Telescope”, named after the renowned scientist Edwin Hubble, was finished by 1985, after many delays. The launching was planned for October 1986, when an unfortunate incident struck. In January 1986, the space shuttle Challenger exploded into fire and smoke soon after its flight. This incident brought a halt to all space shuttle programs. This delayed the dream of astronomers to zoom into deep space again. But after 4 years, in 1990, shuttle Discovery rose to the sky, carrying the masterpiece, Hubble Space Telescope.

Aboard in Discovery was the first female who completed a spacewalk, astronaut Dr. Kathryn D. Sullivan. She was one of the five crew members who were on the mission of deploying Hubble into earth’s orbit. During the mission, one of the solar panels of Hubble stuck unfolding. Dr. Sullivan was ready to step into space to unfold it and fix the problem, but the ground controllers could correct the software on time.

Born in 1951, Dr. Sullivan received her doctorate in geology. She is the first American woman not just in the spacewalk, but also in going to the deepest point in the ocean. She received the Haley Space Flight Award for “distinguished performance in deployment of Hubble Space Telescope”. In 2019, she wrote “Handprints On Hubble: An Astronaut’s Story Of Invention”, revealing her experiences in the deployment mission.

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Hubble’s Godmother: Senator Barbara Mikulski

However, challenges didn’t end that easily. The images sent by HST were blurred and scientists figured out that the curved mirror is a bit too flat for more focused images. As a result, Hubble’s first service mission was scheduled in 1993, where two teams repaired in five back-to-back spacewalks. Soon after the crew returned to earth, Hubble sent the most stunning images in deep space, opening a new window to the universe.

From its concept to the first clear image, Hubble’s story spanned through 47 years. During all this time, it wasn’t just scientists who contributed to this tremendous task. There’s one unforgettable woman who became the pillar of strength through its highs and lows.

Four Successful Women for the Hubble's Success
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As NASA says, if Dr. Roman was the “Mother of Hubble”, Sen. Barbara Mikulski has to be the “Godmother of Hubble”. Dedicating her life to social service, she became a senator in 1986. Being the longest-serving female senator, Mikulski supported investments in research and innovation. After the Hubble’s first repair mission which led to clearer images, she proudly declared its success in a press conference, saying “trouble with Hubble is over.” It’s said that Dr. Roman was sitting in that audience, knitting, silently showing ‘mission accomplished’.

When Hubble’s fourth repair mission got canceled in 2004, Senator Mikulski spared no effort to make it happen, extending Hubble’s lifetime into the 2020s. She remains to be a strong voice to achieve equality for women, and especially women of science, encouraging and motivating the generations.

Dr. Wendy Freedman: Leading the Hubble to Determine the Universe’s Age

One of Hubble’s main motives is to measure the expansion rate of the universe. To accomplish that, the Hubble Key Project was commenced shortly after the launching of HST. A team of 30 astronomers was assigned to this, led by Dr. Wendy freedman. By measuring distances to nearby galaxies, they could shrink the uncertainty of the Hubble constant, determining that the universe is 13.5 billion years old. She went on to chair the Board of Directors for the Giant Magellan Telescope, continuing her contribution to astronomy.

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From the red spot of Jupiter to the heart of the Milky Way to distant galaxies, Hubble is showing us the wonders of the universe, unveiling the mysteries. Behind those images, there are these four unforgettable women, proving that it’s not gender that makes a person makes a person successful, but dedication and motivation.


01. Achenbach, J., & Kaplan, S. (2020, May 20). NASA names newest space telescope for pioneering female astronomer. The Washington Post.
02. Garner, R. (2020, April 22). Four Successful Women Behind Hubble’s Achievements. NASA.
03. Kelly-Leigh Cooper, B. (2020, June 14). Kathy Sullivan: The woman who’s made history in sea and space. BBC News.
04. Messer, T. C. R. (n.d.). A Brief History of the Hubble Space Telescope. NASA. Retrieved October 8, 2021, from
05. Roman, N. G. (2019). Nancy Grace Roman and the Dawn of Space Astronomy. Annual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics, 57(1), 1–34.

Image Courtesies

01. Featured Image: Designed by Dasith Tilakaratna (SEDS UOC). Images resourced from,,, and
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Article by N. D. Wanniarachchi (2nd Year Undergraduate)

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