NASA refuses to rename the James Webb Telescope

The James Webb Space Telescope has been taking amazing pictures of the Universe since the summer of 2022 thanks to the highest quality cameras that can capture at different wavelengths of infrared radiation. The observatory, at a distance of almost 2 million kilometers from Earth, creates stunning portraits of galaxies illuminated by the light of stars filled with mysterious black holes and turbulent nebulae. At the same time, this almost perfect instrument worth USD 10 billion with an impeccable reputation has one controversial point – its name.

The James Webb Space Telescope. Source: NASA

Accusations from the LGBT community

A few months before the launch into space, the LGBT community in the United States criticized NASA and demanded that the space telescope be renamed. NASA has had to contend with widespread neglect over the fact that the telescope bears the name of James Webb, who led the space agency from 1961 to 1968. Public organizations accuse NASA that the head promoted a policy of intolerance against LGBT people during his tenure as head.

Thus, when James Webb was preparing to fly into space last year, investigations of these accusations began in parallel, provoked by protests from scientists, activists and members of the public who demanded to change the name of the innovative machine. Only at the end of last week, NASA published documents relating to its investigation of Webb. The agency found no reason to rename the telescope.

“Based on the available evidence, the agency has no plans to change the name of the James Webb Space Telescope,” NASA said Friday in a release about the 89-page report.

Lavender Scape

The investigation focused on two cases involving Webb, both of which occurred during what is known as The Lavender Scare. From the late 1940s to the late 1960s, Lavender Scare was a tragic era in American history when thousands of employees were either laid off or forced to leave solely because of their non-traditional sexual orientation.

James Webb, after whom the telescope is named. Photo: Wikipedia

One of the two cases examined was a meeting in June 1950 between Webb, who was then Deputy Secretary of State, and US President Harry Truman. The purpose of the meeting was to “eradicate homosexuals and other moral perverts from state departments and agencies“. A NASA investigation revealed that Webb’s primary involvement in the meeting was “an attempt to restrict Congressional access to State Department personnel records”.

NASA Conclusions

“To date, there is no available evidence of a direct connection between Webb and any actions or subsequent actions related to the dismissal of individuals because of their sexual orientation,” said NASA chief Bill Nelson.

In other words, NASA assumes that discrimination took place at the agency, especially because U.S. federal policy at that time encouraged such biases. But Webb himself was not associated with such discrimination. The NASA report also contains encouraging observations on how to learn from huge mistakes in order to build a bright future.

According to CNET

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