The James Webb Space Telescope is a NASA mega project. But many scientists are angry. The reason is the name of the telescope.
The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is a superlative instrument: The ten billion dollar JWST project of the Nasa as well as the This is scheduled to take off on board an Ariane launcher in the fall. If everything goes according to plan, the James Webb Space Telescope dwarfs the Hubble telescope: the one that has been in use for more than three decades Hubble-Telescope is located 500 kilometers above the earth. The James Webb Space Telescope, meanwhile, will operate at an incredible 1.5 million kilometers away, forever changing our view of space.
A project that NASA – as so often – celebrates with a lot of pathos. “Webb is an exemplary mission that epitomizes perseverance,” said Gregory L. Robinson, Webb’s program director at NASA headquarters in Washington. “I am inspired by our dedicated team and our global partnerships that made this incredible endeavor possible. Together we overcame technical obstacles on the way and challenges during the coronavirus pandemic. “
James Webb Telescope: Evidence of Inglorious Spots
However, the new one James Webb Telescope a naming problem. Namesake James Webb was NASA’s administrator between 1961 and 1968. His term of office is considered to be decisive for the importance of the space agency: During these years, NASA developed from a rather loose collection of research centers to a clearly structured organization. As a former State Department official, Webb had good connections to Washington, which should have made it easier for him to raise funds for NASA projects and ultimately to advance the Apollo program and prepare for the moon landing.
However, there is evidence of inglorious stains in Webb’s career. In the early 1950s, Webb is believed to have played a prominent role in persecuting gays and lesbians during the infamous McCarthy era. Hundreds of employees had been fired from the ministry at the time. During this time, Senator Joseph McCarthy hunted so-called “subversives”: a witch hunt for people who, according to conservative and right-wing circles, had infiltrated society and the government in order to surrender the USA to communism.
Persecution of Gay and Lesbian Federal Employees
McCarthy and his supporters also included gays and lesbians in this “hostile group”; they were confusedly convinced that there was a “homosexual underground” as part of a communist conspiracy. Dozens of federal employees fired for sexual orientation during Webb’s tenure. Even later, when Webb had long been the head of NASA, this continued: In 1963 a NASA employee had to vacate his post – because he was suspected of being gay.
Years ago, when the new telescope was still in the planning phase, critics had pointed out that naming it after James Webb was problematic. In May 2021, a petition was even started calling for the JWST to be renamed. More than 1200 people signed it, including numerous astronomers.
Nasa: No renaming of James Webb
Now, however, NASA has announced that there will be no renaming. The agency said it had found no evidence to support the allegations against namesake James Webb. However, the space agency did not comment on exactly how the NASA investigation looked. Numerous astronomers accuse NASA of lack of transparency and criticize the decision.
“I’m disappointed,” said Johanna Teske, who works as an astronomer at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington DC, to the US magazine “Science”. “Without knowing the factors that have been taken into account, I find it difficult to respect the decision to keep the current name.”