The scandalous story unfolded with the renaming of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, which was sent into orbit in December, continued unexpectedly.
This telescope was created with the collaboration of 17 NASA-led countries and has the highest resolution of any telescope ever made by humans. The capabilities of the tool are many times greater than that of Hubble, and James Webb is often called its successor. The telescope has become the most expensive and complex spacecraft and perhaps one of the most expensive instruments in human history. In total, about 10 billion dollars were spent, which is much higher than initial estimates. The launch date has also been delayed many times: initially, in 1997, they wanted to launch the telescope around 2007, in the early 2010s, the launch was already planned for 2018, and as a result, it was launched on December 25, 2021. Its launch is considered by many scientists to be the most important space event of the past year.
However, a few months before its launch in the United States, some scientists requested Rename the telescope named after the famous NASA administrator James Webb. They claim that Webb was involved in a policy of oppression of sexual minorities while working in high positions at NASA and previously in the US State Department.
Webb is immortalized in the name of the mission as NASA’s administrator from 1961-68, as the agency insisted on maintaining its scientific focus, even though the Apollo program had drawn much of NASA’s forces and funding at the time.
In the late 1940s, when Webb began working in the American government, gays and lesbians in the United States were discriminated against, often fired from their jobs, and this policy was supported by a number of influential congressmen.
In May 2021, four astronomers wrote a petition to change the name of the telescope, which received more than a thousand signatures. According to the petition’s authors, Webb, who held a high position in the US State Department from 1949 to 1952, repeatedly sent notes to the anti-gay senator “on problems with homosexuals and sexual perverts.” The astronomers cited documents found in the archives by astronomer Adrian Lucy. “The documents clearly demonstrate that Webb planned and attended meetings where he transferred homophobic material,” the petitioners said earlier.
Webb allegedly was intolerant of LGBT people, even as director of NASA. “We believe that well-known historical documents are clearly in favor of renaming the telescope,” the authors of the petition say.
Regardless, at the end of September 2021, NASA administration refused to change the name of the James Webb Telescope, an idea championed by the American LGBT community. “We found no reason to change the name of the James Webb telescope,” said NASA chief Bill Nelson.
NASA announced that the commission that reviewed Webb’s biography had no intention of making the results of its study public, which further angered scientists.
Now, letters from NASA employees who participated in checking complaints in 2021 have been published. Freedom of Information Act Letters received editorial staff of the prestigious journal Nature.
Thus, the story of NASA employee Clifford Norton, who was fired from the agency in 1963 because his superiors saw him as gay, was confirmed. The commission also affirmed that firing employees for “gay behavior” was a “tradition” for the agency, which was headed by Webb in the 1960s.
“I think you will find this paragraph offensive,” an unnamed outside researcher told Eric Smith, a member of the commission, in the spring of 2021, according to published letters. “Tradition within the agency sounds pretty bad.”
Also, part of the official conclusion of the commission was published and it was decided not to be distributed to the public. “This shows that NASA decided it would be policy to fire gay workers. Under Webb, there was the option to create or change that policy,” the document states.
Eventually, it turned out that during the research, Paul Hertz, director of the astrophysics division at NASA headquarters, turned to a dozen astronomers for their ideas on a possible renaming of the telescope. “No one said they would be disappointed with the renaming,” he told management. However, it turned out that no one was interviewed from the LGBT community of scientists.