Meet Indian scientist Hashima Hasan, who helped launch NASA telescope

Dr Hashima Hasan, an Indian-origin scientist has played a key role in the launch of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Webb Space Telescope.

Post her education, she embraced the opportunity to work as a Senior scientist at the NASA headquarters in Washington DC. One of her significant roles is that of the Deputy Program Scientist at James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), which succeeded the Hubble Space Telescope.

Her roles included oversight during the mission development phase to make sure that the science requirements were being met, and the best science observation program selected for the operation phase. She is currently serving as a spokesperson for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) to the media and delivers talks to school students.

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In a recent NASA podcast, she revealed that while she was in class 6, a teacher told students that anything can be achieved if they worked hard for it. The teacher’s statement had a profound impact on her and that is when she chose science as a core subject for higher studies.

Hasan’s well-educated family also played a major role in shaping her interest in science. Her uncle Dr. Husain Zaheer, was the former Director-General of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). The scientific temper of her aunt, Dr Najama Zaheer, who was a Biologist, also motivated her.

The NASA scientist then recalled that her mother had complete faith in her and was a driving force who pushed her to pursue her ambitions. Hasan developed an interest in space science in 1957 when the whole family assembled in the backyard to watch USSR’s first satellite Sputnik fly by.

According to a report by The Indian Panorama, Hassan started her research on nuclear physics at the Bhaba Atomic Research Centre (BARC). Upon her return to the US, she was hired by the newly established Space Telescope Science Institute to write the simulation software for the optics of the soon-to-be-launched Hubble Space Telescope. She also took up optics and astronomy.

Her stint at the Space Telescope Science Institute and a keen interest in optics and astronomy paved the way for her journey to NASA as she was presented with an opportunity to correct an optical error that the software in the Hubble Telescope had developed.

Education

She graduated with a BSc degree from Lucknow University and went on to pursue an Masters degree in Physics from Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), graduating as a Gold Medalist.

Hashima then went on to pursue a PhD from AMU under Dr Zillur Rahman Khan. Post that, she received the Commonwealth Scholarship and joined the University of Oxford, and pursued a D.Phil. in Theoretical Nuclear Physics. Hassan was later awarded the Resident Research Associateship by the U.S. National Research Council. As part of the fellowship, she pursued Atmospheric Science.

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