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Why NASA Was Pushed to Take James Webb’s Name Off the Telescope

In 2002, Sean O’Keefe, then the NASA administrator, introduced that the company’s subsequent telescope could be named for James Webb, who led NASA throughout the Sixties, when it was gearing up to land individuals on the moon. He was a staunch champion of area science.

Some astronomers had been dissatisfied that it will not be named for an astronomer, whereas others objected on extra critical grounds, particularly that Mr. Webb bore some duty for an occasion throughout the Truman administration generally known as the Lavender Scare that resulted in the purging of homosexual and lesbian staff from the State Department. At the time, Mr. Webb had been the beneath secretary of state.

That subject gained prominence a 12 months in the past when 4 astronomers — Lucianne Walkowicz of the SimplySpace Alliance and Adler Planetarium in Chicago, Chanda Prescod-Weinstein of the University of New Hampshire, Brian Nord of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and the University of Chicago and Sarah Tuttle of the University of Washington — revealed an op-ed in Scientific American, “The James Webb Space Telescope Needs to Be Renamed.”

NASA mentioned it will examine the claims and publish a report. Subsequently, final September, Bill Nelson, the present NASA administrator and a former Florida senator, introduced that he noticed no want to change the title. No report was ever launched, infuriating the critics.

In March after the telescope launched, Nature magazine reported on the basis of FOIA requests that NASA had taken the allegations significantly sufficient that Paul Hertz, then NASA’s director of astrophysics, had written outdoors astronomers asking if he ought to change the telescope’s title. The reply was no, however he didn’t speak to any L.G.B.T.Q. astronomers.

The journal additionally reported information from the case of Clifford Norton. He had been fired from NASA in 1963 — throughout Mr. Webb’s tenure — for being homosexual, and the archival supplies alluded to “a custom in the agency” of firing individuals for gay exercise. Mr. Norton appealed and received a landmark case in opposition to such discrimination in 1969.

In November of 2021, NASA’s Astrophysics Advisory Committee requested the company for fuller report.

Mr. O’Keefe, the former administrator, defended his selection in an electronic mail.

“Arguably, were it not for James Webb’s determination to fulfill the most audacious vision of his time, our capacity to explore today would be starkly different,” Mr. O’Keefe mentioned.

But that was not sufficient for the critics. “If he’s not responsible for the bad stuff that happened while he was in charge, why is he responsible for the good stuff?” Dr. Prescod-Weinstein mentioned. “It seems there’s a bit of double-think happening here, where people assign him responsibility for the things they like about his legacy and pretend that he’s only responsible for the things they like.”

“Our telescopes, if they are going to be named after people, should be named after people who inspire us to be our better selves,” Dr. Prescod-Weinstein added.

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