NASA adviser quits after request to change name of James Webb telescope denied

An adviser for NASA wrote an open letter on Tuesday on why they decided to quit after a request to change the name of the James Webb Space Telescope was denied by the agency.

Lucianne Walkowicz, who is nonbinary, wrote that they were resigning “because NASA’s handling of the questions regarding James Webb as a choice for naming its next flagship mission has made a farce of this [NASA Astrophysics Advisory] committee.”

The letter was also sent to NASA Astrophysics Advisory Committee. 

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A petition circulated earlier this year calling for the name of the James Webb Space Telescope to be changed. The telescope is named after former NASA administrator James Webb, who also served in a high-level role at the State Department. Critics say he allowed for the dismissal of gay and lesbian federal employees, including in the instance of Clifford Norton who worked at NASA, NPR reported.

The efforts to change the name were unsuccessful, with NASA telling NPR that after investigating the issue, the name of the telescope would not be renamed.

"We have found no evidence at this time that warrants changing the name of the James Webb Space Telescope,” NASA administrator Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonNASA spacewalk delayed due to debris threat This Thanksgiving, skip the political food fights and talk UFOs instead Two trajectories to Mars by the 2030s MORE told the radio news outlet.

Walkowicz — who has an asteroid named after them — said that the response by the agency to not consider changing the name ​​”sends a clear message of NASA's position on the rights of queer astronomers. It also speaks clearly to me that NASA does not deserve my time.”

“After the past year and a half we've had with not only the pandemic, but also national grappling with issues of racism and human rights, it boggles the mind that NASA has so little insight into its own participation in systematic oppression,” they added in their letter. “What, for example, does it mean for NASA Headquarters to rename its address to “Hidden Figures Way”, when NASA itself hid the figures of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, and Mary Jackson to begin with?”

The Hill has reached out to NASA for comment.