James Webb Space Telescope

The Webb Telescope’s Latest Stumbling Block: Its Name

The Webb Telescope’s Latest Stumbling Block: Its Name

The long-awaited successor to the Hubble Space Telescope is scheduled to release in December. But the NASA professional for whom it is called has been accused of homophobia.


Many astronomers have been dissatisfied while NASA’s up-and-coming space telescope, the successor to the vaunted Hubble Space Telescope, changed into named for James Webb, a former NASA administrator who led the organisation thru the dignity years of the Apollo missions. Why now no longer call it for an astronomer, the manner different space missions — Hubble, Kepler — were, in preference to a bean counter? But they held their tongues.


After all, the brand new telescope, that’s now scheduled to be released from a spaceport in French Guiana on Dec. 18, changed into designed to be larger and extra effective than the Hubble. Orbiting the solar 1,000,000 miles from Earth, it’ll be able to bringing into recognition the earliest stars and galaxies withinside the universe and intently analyzing the atmospheres of close by exoplanets for symptoms and symptoms of existence or habitability.


Now a brand new objection to the Webb call has arisen, inflaming the astronomical network. In 2015, Dan Savage, a columnist for The Stranger, a Seattle newspaper, known as interest to the reality that James Webb, earlier than going for walks NASA, have been the beneathneath secretary of nation withinside the Truman management at some stage in the Lavender Scare, a duration while hundreds of homosexual guys and lesbians misplaced their authorities jobs as capacity safety risks. Was this the type of individual to call a groundbreaking telescope after?


That query received prominence this spring while 4 astronomers — Lucianne Walkowicz of the JustSpace Alliance and Adler Planetarium in Chicago, Chanda Prescod-Weinstein of the University of New Hampshire, Brian Nord of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and of the University of Chicago, and Sarah Tuttle of the University of Washington — posted an op-ed in Scientific American beneathneath the title, “The James Webb Space Telescope Needs to Be Renamed.”


The historic file is sketchy as to how tons Webb changed into concerned withinside the Lavender Scare purge, which appears to were by and large instigated via way of means of Congress. But the proof does appear to expose that he at the least knew what changed into going on, even assembly with President Harry S. Truman to talk about it, in keeping with the book “The Lavender Scare,” via way of means of David Johnson. Mr. Johnson determined no proof, however, that Mr. Webb changed into an instigator of the purge. “I don’t see him as having any type of management position withinside the Lavender Scare,” he instructed the magazine Nature.


In their op-ed, the 4 astronomers argued that even though Webb changed into now no longer at once concerned withinside the State Department purge and comparable activities at NASA, the reality that it came about on his watch has completely besmirched his call — a call that, if all is going nicely with the telescope, might be making headlines for the subsequent 20 years.


“Now that we recognize of Webb’s silence at State and his movements at NASA, we suppose it’s time to rename JWST,” the authors wrote. “The call of such an essential mission, which guarantees to stay withinside the famous and clinical psyche for decades, need to be a mirrored image of our maximum values.” A higher call for the telescope, they advised, is probably the Harriet Tubman Space Telescope; in keeping with legend, Tubman helped slaves break out via way of means of following the North Star.


Other scientists, such as Hakeem Oluseyi, a travelling astrophysicist at George Mason University, have argued in help of Webb, noting that he changed into a vocal supporter of Black human beings and ladies at NASA, promoted a energetic technological know-how program, and have been inaccurately recognized on Wikipedia because the supply of a quote maligning the emotional balance of those “who have interaction in overt acts of perversion.”


Sean O’Keefe, the NASA administrator who named the telescope in 2002, stated in an e-mail that Webb changed into “a champion of education, technology, technological know-how, aeronautics and human exploration.”


“Arguably, have been it now no longer for James Webb’s willpower to satisfy the maximum audacious imaginative and prescient of his time, our potential to discover nowadays might be starkly different,” Mr. O’Keefe stated. “He added complicated structures control — a field to harness the superb technical functionality of NASA at that time.” Mr. O’Keefe introduced that he changed into blind to any proof that Webb changed into chargeable for the Lavender Scare.


In May, NASA promised a complete research via way of means of its appearing leader historian, Brian Odom. On Sept. 27, the organisation issued a declaration from the contemporary NASA administrator, Bill Nelson, saying, “We have determined no proof presently that warrants converting the call of the James Webb Space Telescope.” Since then, no big record has been forthcoming.


This has infuriated many astronomers, and a few 1,2 hundred have signed a petition calling for the telescope to be renamed. “Under Webb’s management, queer human beings have been persecuted,” the petition reads, in part. “Those who might excuse Webb’s failure of management can not concurrently award him credit score for his control of Apollo.”


On listening to Mr. Nelson’s announcement, Dr. Walkowicz all of sudden resigned their publish at the NASA Astrophysics Advisory Committee. “This flippant, pathetic reaction to the very affordable questions raised via way of means of the astronomical network concerning JWST’s call sends a clean message of NASA’s role at the rights of queer astronomers,” they wrote in a web declaration. “It additionally speaks sincerely to me that NASA does now no longer deserve my time.”


In an e-mail, Dr. Prescod-Weinstein stated she changed into annoyed at the dearth of promised transparency. Moreover, she stated, the declare of “no proof” changed into too strong, because it advised that Webb changed into now no longer chargeable for the homophobia — nicely documented — that his crew promulgated at some stage in his tenure at NASA.


“If he’s now no longer chargeable for the terrible stuff that came about whilst he changed into in charge, why is he chargeable for the coolest stuff?” Dr. Prescod-Weinstein stated. “It appears there’s a chunk of double-suppose occurring here, wherein human beings assign him duty for the matters they prefer approximately his legacy and fake that he’s handiest chargeable for the matters they prefer.”


“Our telescopes, if they’re going to be named after human beings, need to be named after folks that encourage us to be our higher selves,” Dr. Prescod-Weinstein introduced. “Harriet Tubman is one such individual, who for generations has been intently related to connecting the celebrities to at least one our maximum precious values: freedom.”


Astronomers are keen to apply the brand new telescope, however its call can also additionally be part of the ranks of the unmentionables — a Lord Voldemort of the heavens. As Dr. Prescod-Weinstein tweeted on Sept. 30, “I am in my view pleased approximately the Just Wonderful Space Telescope (JWST).”

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