NASA has announced that they will not change the name of the James Webb telescope before its launch in December, despite a petition against the honor of a space pioneer that many now see as homophobic.
James Webb was NASA’s second administrator. He chaired the agency from 1961 to 68, at a vital time for the early days of space exploration. But in recent years his legacy has been questioned
Webb, who died in 1992 at the age of 85, was the second administrator in NASA history, taking over at the request of John F. Kennedy in 1961.
He ran the agency until 1968 and was instrumental in the Apollo programs that would see, the year after his departure, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walk the moon.
However, in recent years, the 2002 decision to name a new $ 10 billion telescope after Webb has sparked criticism.
Webb has been accused of being homophobic after his role was lifted in the dismissal of a gay NASA employee in 1963. Questions were also asked about his involvement in a 1950-52 “Lavender Scare.” when he was in the State Department, and 91 gay people were “purged.”
But on Sept. 30, NASA administrator Bill Nelson said they had decided not to change the name of the telescope.
“We haven’t found any evidence at this time to change the name of the James Webb space telescope,” he said.
It is seen that the James Webb Telescope is being mounted for the first time. The $ 10 billion telescope, 100 times more powerful than the Hubble, will be launched in December
The James Webb telescope is so large that it will have to be folded inside the rocket and then deployed once it is in orbit.
Technicians and scientists check one of the first two flying mirrors of the Webb telescope in the clean room of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland
Nelson’s decision has infuriated those who campaigned for the renaming of the $ 10 billion telescope, described by NASA as the largest, most powerful and complex space telescope ever built and launched into space.
“It will fundamentally alter our understanding of the universe,” NASA promises.
The telescope will be launched into orbit on December 18 after 25 years of work by 1,200 scientists, technicians and engineers from 14 countries.
It looks like an upgrade of the Hubble telescope, and is 100 times more powerful: it is so large that it will fold, origami-style, to fit the rocket, according to NASA, and will be deployed “like a transformer” in the ‘space.
Webb’s actions have been the subject of intense debate.
Webb is seen alongside Kennedy as he hands the medal to the distinguished federal civil service to Dr. Robert R. Gilruth, director of the Crewed Spaceship Center. Astronauts Alan Shepard (left) and John Glenn (second left) look at it
Webb is photographed at a 1962 NASA press conference in Washington DC
Was James Webb homophobic?
Webb’s importance to the American space program is indisputable, but his attitudes have sparked a major debate.
His critics say he should not be honored when so many pioneers are ignored, especially women and people of color. His supporters say he was a product of his time and that his real involvement in the cases that were associated with it is disputed.
Webb was in the State Department during the so-called “lavender scare” of 1950-52, when 91 homosexuals were forced to quit their jobs.
At the time, it was illegal for gays to serve in public office, and being gay was seen as amoral. Homosexuals were often seen as a target of blackmail.
Webb advocates say there is no evidence of his actions during the Lavender scare.
Webb speaks in the White House in 1963, with Kennedy on his right and Lyndon B. Johnson on his left
Webb is also criticized for presiding over the shooting of Clifford L. Norton in 1963, who was arrested by the Washington DC “Morals Squad.”
NASA accused him of “immoral, indecent and shameful conduct.”
But Webb supporters say he, as the agency’s administrator, would not have participated in the dismissal of a low-level budget administrator. Also, when Norton successfully sued for unjustified dismissal in 1969, Webb was not named at all in the case.
Trained as a lawyer, he was undersecretary of state at the State Department in the 1950s, when he worried that homosexuals would be “diversions” to whom, by banning service in the civil service, they could open up to blackmail.
Under the leadership of President Harry Truman, a gay purge was carried out, known as Lavender Scare: 91 State Department employees lost their jobs.
However, Webb supporters – including the team behind Chasing the Moon, the PBS documentary – point out that there was no evidence of Webb’s direct involvement in the Lavender Scare.
Webb was also in the State Department when the idea of psychological warfare was introduced.
A more troubling case is that of Clifford L. Norton, a NASA budget administrator, who was arrested by the “Morals Squad” in Washington DC in 1963 and later fired for being gay.
NASA accused him of “immoral, indecent and shameful conduct.”
Norton sued in 1969 and won a landmark case, which banned homosexuals from performing public office.
Webb was the administrator of NASA at the time and was therefore ulitmately responsible for the firing.
Still, his sponsors say he would not have been involved in firing a low-level employee like Norton.
In addition, the Chasing the Moon team noted that Webb’s name was never mentioned in the 1969 case, which was filed against the head of the civil service, John Macy.
Organizers of the petition against Webb’s honor with the telescope were angry at the decision to continue.
‘NASA has decided to keep the name (chosen by a previous NASA administrator to … change the tradition of putting space telescopes in the name of scientists and honor another administrator?) – and “announced it” by leaking a statement barely limited journalists, ‘said Sarah Tuttle, an astrophysicist who created the petition with three other people.
“This morning I am especially heartbroken to spend the next two days attending the NASA Space Grant Grant meeting.
“What a slap, the day this meeting starts, to tell people” Thank you for bringing minority people into the ranks – we don’t really care how they affect our decisions. Not even enough to answer your questions. “
“NASA relies on cowardice and poor public relations technique to filter that they will not change the name of JWST, which is named after a career administrator who oversaw homophobic persecution and the development of psychological warfare, ignoring the sun Request for reconsideration of 1200 astronomers “.
Astronauts known as Mercury Seven are seen in 1964 listening to Webb on the podium. From left to right: Deke Slayton, Wally Schirra, Donald Cooper, Scott Carpenter, Gus Grisson, John Glenn, Alan Shepard