As the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) gazes softly into infrared radiation into space to reveal more layers of cosmic history, the controversy over which name it bears simmers a million miles back home on Earth, where a movement is afoot to change the name telescope.
Managed by James E. Webb of NASA as its second administrator from 1961 to 1968, in the midst of the Apollo program, which sought to land humans on the Moon. Earlier in Webb’s civil service career, he served as Under Secretary of State from 1949 to 1952 for President Harry Truman.
Webb’s tenure at the State Department occurred during a period spanning decades when government officials fired or forced thousands of federal employees to resign in an era that writer David K. The Lavender Scare: Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government.
Webb’s association with the mass dismissal of many employees due to their sexual orientation led to a movement to rename the telescope, which was originally called the NASA Next Generation Space Telescope.
JWST is the result of a collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency. NASA led the development of the telescope, and it was a former NASA official who secured Webb as the telescope’s namesake.
in Opinion article from Scientific American As of March 2021, four astronomers — Chanda Prescod Weinstein of the University of New Hampshire, Sarah Tuttle of the University of Washington, Lucien Wukovich of the JustSpace Alliance and Adler Planetarium, and Brian Nord of Fermilab and the University of Chicago — have expressed dissatisfaction with the NASA designation. This new telescope of a man “whose legacy is at best complex and at worst reflects complicity in anti-gay discrimination in the federal government.”
They wrote: “The name of such an important mission, which promises to live on in the popular and scholarly psyche for decades, must be a reflection of our highest values. James Webb’s legacy is the antithesis of the dream and sense of freedom inspired by the exploration of deep time and distant space.”
As they were “laid off”, many of those who lost their jobs during the lavender panic were not assigned to work in their chosen occupations again; Some were so devastated, they committed suicide.
Even if Webb did not fire these workers himself, Prescod, Weinstein, Tuttle, Wolowitz, and Nord write that he nevertheless bears responsibility for the destructive policies enacted under his leadership and thus does not deserve the telescope honour.
The purge of gay men and women from government jobs coincided with the anti-communist “witch hunt” known as the Red Scare, instigated by Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy in the early 1950s. The Red Scare sparked a nationwide communist paranoia, which McCarthy extended to concerns about sexuality, as he portrayed this group as threats to national security who might be vulnerable to extortion by foreign agents.
Congressional investigators and government reports also used satirical and derogatory language and in 1953, President Dwight Eisenhower signed Executive Order 10450which led to the rationalization of launch operations effectively.
Prescod-Weinstein, Tuttle, Waukeaks and Nord have been launched Online petition Asking NASA to change the name of the telescope. Currently, more than 1,700 people from all over the world have signed the petition, mostly astronomy students, university professors, engineers, researchers and “astronomy enthusiasts”. At least twenty signers work on jobs associated with NASA and 143 have applied for research time on the telescope at the time they signed up.
Prescod-Weinstein, Tuttle, Walkowicz, and Nord—who describe themselves as “future users of NASA’s next-generation space telescope”—suggest an alternative tribute to JWST: Harriet Tubman, the abolitionist and the leader of the Underground Railroad that used the North Star and other Celestial stars coordinate to transport themselves and their fellow slaves to freedom under cover of darkness.
They write that the Harriet Tubman Space Telescope will serve as a reminder that the night sky – which gave hope to Tubman and others – belongs to everyone. They wrote, “We should call telescopes out of love for those who came before us and led the way to freedom, and out of love for those who will come after us.”
Last September, NASA told NPR that it had opened an investigation into James Webb, but eventually concluded that his name would remain on the telescope.
“We find no evidence at this time that calls for a name change to the James Webb Space Telescope,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson told NPR. After not too long, Walkowicz resigned In protest of the NASA Astrophysics Advisory Committee, on a pledge not to use the telescope’s current name; Many proponents of the name change followed suit and referred to it only as JWST.
Related: Alison Strom Professor of Northwest Astrophysics Traces the galaxy’s DNA using a spectrometer from the James Webb Space Telescope.