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NASA Faces Calls To Rename James Webb Telescope After It Shares Deepest Ever Picture Of Space

NASA Faces Calls To Rename James Webb Telescope After It Shares Deepest Ever Picture Of Space

James Webb worked as the administrator of NASA from February 1961 to October 1968

Activists are calling on NASA to change the name of the James Webb telescope due to the controversial actions of its namesake.

The telescope became a popular talking point this week after it produced the deepest and sharpest infrared image of the universe ever captured, showing thousands of galaxies in a cluster known as SMACS 0723.

Shared by both NASA and Joe Biden, the image was described by the US president as 'astounding' and 'a historic moment for science and technology', but the name of the telescope that produced it has proved problematic for many.

James Webb was an American official who worked as the second-ever administrator of NASA, running the space agency from February 1961 to October 1968. The telescope was named after him in 2002, almost 20 years before it was launched into space on 25 December 2021, but the recent attention surrounding the equipment has re-sparked debate over its name.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Webb was linked to the persecution of LGBTQ+ people amid the so-called 'lavender scare', which resulted in the mass dismissal of gay and lesbian people from the US government.

Among those fired during Webb's time as administrator was NASA employee Clifford Norton, who was accused of 'immoral, indecent, and disgraceful conduct' after being interrogated on suspicion of homosexuality, The Guardian reports.

A petition signed by hundreds of people in the astronomy community demands that NASA 'immediately' rename the telescope, arguing it should give the honour to 'someone whose legacy befits a telescope whose data will be used in discoveries that will inspire future generations of astronomers, discoveries that... the undersigned will make'.

Ahead of the release of the image yesterday (11 July), Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, one of the researchers leading the petition, reiterated her frustration over the telescope's name as she wrote: "As one of the people who has been leading the push to change the name, today feels bittersweet. I’m so excited for the new images and so angry at Nasa HQ.

“Nasa leadership has stubbornly refused to acknowledge that what is now public info about JW’s legacy means he does not merit having a great observatory named after him."

American astronomer Phil Plait also called for change on Twitter, writing: "The observatory will produce amazing science and gorgeous images, certainly the equal of anything Hubble has done. But it’s named after someone irrevocably tied to bigotry and homophobia, and moreover Nasa has botched the way they handled the situation.”

This is not the first time arguments for renaming the telescope have been raised, but the calls continue after NASA announced last September it had 'found no evidence... that warrants changing the name of the James Webb space telescope'.

If you’ve been affected by any of these issues and want to speak to someone in confidence, contact the LGBT Foundation on 0345 3 30 30 30, 10am–6pm Monday to Friday, or email [email protected] 

Featured Image Credit: NASA/Shutterstock

Topics: LGBTQ, NASA, Twitter, Space