The James Webb Space Telescope has a rather complicated fate. It was designed and assembled for almost 20 years, it went through many launch postponements and experienced funding problems. But with titanic efforts, the famous “heavenly eye” was launched into its orbit at the L2 Lagrange point, where it is now completing the final stage of setting up its mirrors. It would seem that what could go wrong? This week, a new problem has emerged — a dispute over the name James Webb. The name of the telescope can be changed. But why?
James Webb, after whom the telescope is named, was the second administrator of NASA. From 1961 to 1968, he directed the Apollo program, which landed people on the Moon. He also defended NASA’s scientific agenda. In 2002, agency administrator Sean O’Keefe proposed naming the next-generation space telescope, which was being created to replace Hubble, in honor of Webb.
Not everyone likes James Webb
According to Space, not everyone at NASA agreed with the name James Webb. The disputes over the famous name of the flagship observatory have not subsided since the summer of 2021. Opponents of the name are calling for the project to be renamed because of the allegedly bad reputation of James Webb himself. People remembered that during his time in the federal government, he fueled discrimination against the LGBT community, which was dubbed the “lavender panic”. As a result of this scandal, thousands of people were fired or forced to resign. At the end of September, NASA administrator Bill Nelson supported the name of the telescope, but agency representatives now say that this process has not been completed.
“At that time there was no evidence that would lead to a name change. I know that the decision made by NASA is painful for some and it seems wrong to many. But the name of the telescope is the prerogative of the agency administrator,” Paul Hertz, head of NASA’s astrophysics department, said at a meeting of the Astrophysics Advisory Committee on March 30.
Hertz also admitted that the controversy has caused scientists to worry about the observations that a powerful telescope will provide. Due to the scandal, the start of observations may be postponed. Now there are serious disputes in the aerospace administration regarding the name. Archival documents are being raised, in which they are looking for evidence of James Webb’s homophobia against NASA employees. If they are found, then James Webb can be renamed.
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