NASA will not change the name of its highly anticipated James Webb Space Telescope, according to media reports.
The moniker honors NASA’s second administrator, who ran the agency from 1961 to 1968 while working to get people to the moon. Critics of Webb claim he was complicit in discrimination against gay and lesbian NASA employees during his tenure, pointing to incidents such as the firing of Clifford Norton for “immoral conduct” in 1963.
Some of those critics created an online petition urging NASA to rename the nearly $ 10 billion telescope, which is scheduled to launch on December 18. The petition makes the case against Webb, which its creators say dates back to his pre-NASA days.
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Before becoming head of NASA, “Webb served as undersecretary of state during the queer purge of the government service known as ‘The Lavender Scare.’ Archival evidence clearly indicates that Webb was in high-level conversations regarding the creation of this policy and the resulting actions, “the petition reads. “As we’ve noted previously, Webb’s legacy of leadership is complicated at best and complicit in the persecution at worst.”
Putting Webb’s name on such a high-profile mission – NASA has announced the observatory as the successor to its iconic Hubble space telescope – sends a troubling message about the agency’s commitment to inclusion and diversity, say the creators of the petition.
“We, the future users of NASA’s next-generation space telescope and those who will inherit its legacy, demand that this telescope be given a name worthy of its remarkable discoveries, a name that represents a future in which we are all free. “. the petition says.
As of Thursday night (September 30), the petition had garnered more than 1,200 signatures, mostly from professional astronomers or astronomy students.
NASA had previously said it would study the name change request. That work is already done, and the agency is keeping the name, NPR reported Thursday.
“We have found no evidence at this time to justify renaming the James Webb Space Telescope,” current NASA chief Bill Nelson told NPR.
The news, and how it was delivered, did not sit well with University of Washington astrophysicist Sarah Tuttle, one of the four originators of the petition. (The others are Lucianne Walkowicz of the JustSpace Alliance and Adler Planetarium in Chicago; Chanda Prescod-Weinstein of the University of New Hampshire; and Brian Nord of Fermilab and the University of Chicago.)
“NASA relies on cowardice and poor public relations technique to leak that they will not change the name of the JWST, which is named after a career administrator who oversaw the homophobic persecution and the development of psychological warfare, ignoring the request for 1,200 astronomers reconsideration, “Tuttle wrote on Twitter. On Thursday, towards the end of a series of tweets about the name announcement.
“They have ignored both the petitioners and the advisory committee that requested an investigation, and have not provided details on either their investigation or their decision,” Tuttle added in another tweet.
The James Webb Space Telescope is optimized to view the cosmos in infrared light and features a primary mirror 21.3 feet (6.5 meters) wide, almost three times wider than Hubble’s. After launching in mid-December from French Guiana on an Ariane 5 rocket, the observatory will head to Earth-Sun Lagrange Point 2, a gravitationally stable place about 930,000 miles (1.5 million kilometers) from its planet. originally.
Once there, the telescope will do a variety of shocking scientific work, from studying some of the earliest stars and galaxies in the universe to looking for signs of life in the atmospheres of nearby alien planets.
Mike Wall is the author of “Out There” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for extraterrestrial life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.