NASA won’t rename James Webb Space Telescope despite controversy

NASA says it has no plans for renaming the James Webb Space Telescope, which was named after a former administrator who permitted the government to discriminate against lesbian and gay employees.

Speaking to NPR, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said, “We have found no evidence at this time that warrants changing the name of the James Webb Space Telescope.”

The telescope is regarded as the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope and is expected to launch by the end of this year.

However more than a thousand people signed a petition earlier this year calling for the telescope to be renamed due to Webb allegedly being complicit in the purge of LGBT people from government service, known as the “Lavender Scare.”

The letter reads that “under Webb’s leadership, queer people were persecuted. Those who would excuse Webb’s failure of leadership cannot simultaneously award him credit for his management of Apollo.”

After the letter was made public, NASA opened an investigation to examine the allegation against Webb.

Senior science communications officer Karen Fox told NPR, “We’ve done as much as we can do at this point and have exhausted our research efforts.”

“Those efforts have not uncovered evidence warranting a name change,” she added.

NPR noted that the decision to name the telescope after Webb — which breaks from the tradition of naming telescopes after famous scientists — was made by former NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe.

O’Keefe, who like Webb also does not come from a scientific background, said he decided to name the telescope after Webb following a casual conversation with other NASA employees and said others seemed to like the idea. While surprised by the outrage, O’Keefe said he understood the concern.

“This is an important matter of history, to understand how it is we could possibly have tolerated the purging of talented professionals on the basis of their personal preferences,” O’Keefe said to NPR. “That’s just so objectionable. No question about it, and I applaud the effort to surface the visibility and awareness of it.”

However, he added that he hadn’t seen evidence to suggest Webb was directly involved in the purging of LGBT people from government jobs.

Tags Astronomical imaging Bill Nelson Hubble Space Telescope James Webb Space Telescope Space telescopes Spacecraft Spaceflight telescope

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