The Webb Telescope’s Latest Stumbling Block: Its Name - The New York Times
Oct 21, 2021 2 mins, 4 secs

The long-awaited successor to the Hubble Space Telescope is scheduled to launch in December.

Many astronomers were disappointed when NASA’s up-and-coming space telescope, the successor to the vaunted Hubble Space Telescope, was named for James Webb, a former NASA administrator who led the agency through the glory years of the Apollo missions.

After all, the new telescope, which is now scheduled to be launched from a spaceport in French Guiana on Dec.

In 2015, Dan Savage, a columnist for The Stranger, a Seattle newspaper, called attention to the fact that James Webb, before running NASA, had been the under secretary of state in the Truman administration during the Lavender Scare, a period when thousands of gay men and lesbians lost their government jobs as potential security risks.

That question gained prominence this spring when four 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 — published an op-ed in Scientific American under the title, “The James Webb Space Telescope Needs to Be Renamed.”.

In their op-ed, the four astronomers argued that even if Webb was not directly involved in the State Department purge and similar events at NASA, the fact that it happened on his watch has permanently besmirched his name — a name that, if all goes well with the telescope, will be making headlines for the next 20 years.

“The name of such an important mission, which promises to live in the popular and scientific psyche for decades, should be a reflection of our highest values.” A better name for the telescope, they suggested, might be the Harriet Tubman Space Telescope; according to legend, Tubman helped slaves escape by following the North Star.

Sean O’Keefe, the NASA administrator who named the telescope in 2002, said in an email that Webb was “a champion of education, technology, science, aeronautics and human exploration.”.

27, the agency issued a statement from the current NASA administrator, Bill Nelson, saying, “We have found no evidence at this time that warrants changing the name of the James Webb Space Telescope.” Since then, no extensive report has been forthcoming.

Moreover, she said, the claim of “no evidence” was too strong, as it suggested that Webb was not responsible for the homophobia — well-documented — that his team promulgated during his tenure at NASA.

30, “I am personally thrilled about the Just Wonderful Space Telescope (JWST).”


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