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NASA Refuses To Change Name Of James Webb Telescope Amid Allegations Of Historical Persecution

NASA Refuses To Change Name Of James Webb Telescope Amid Allegations Of Historical Persecution

The controversy resurfaced following the publication of the first images captured by the telescope

NASA has refused to change the name of the James Webb telescope amid historic allegations of homophobia.

Launched last year, and dubbed 'the world's most powerful telescope', it had the task of peering further back into the universe than ever before, giving us a better understanding of our own existence.

Just this week, NASA released the first images captured by the telescope, which showed the final moments of a dying star thousands of light-years away.

The $10 billion piece of kit was named after Webb, an American civil servant who led the space agency and the Apollo missions during the 1960s.

However, when it was announced that the telescope would be named in his honour, the agency came under fire, with critics demanding it be changed due to Webb's role in the persecution of the LGBTQ+ community in the 50s and 60s.

The telescope was launched last year.

An article published last year in Scientific American set out the argument for removing his name from the telescope.

It said: "When he arrived at NASA in 1961, his leadership role meant he was in part responsible for implementing what was by then federal policy: the purging of LGBT individuals from the workforce.

"When he was at State, this policy was enforced by those who worked under him. As early as 1950, he was aware of this policy, which was a forerunner to the antigay witch hunt known today as the lavender scare.

"Historian David K. Johnson's 2004 book on the subject, The Lavender Scare, discusses archival evidence indicating that Webb, along with others in State Department leadership, was involved in Senate discussions that ultimately kicked off a devastating series of federal policies."

Since then, petitions have been set up, demanding the name be changed, with hundreds putting their names to them.

Criticising the decision to name the telescope after Webb, American astronomer Phil Plait wrote in his Bad Astronomy newsletter: "It’s difficult to want to use an instrument when you know you’ll have to write about it using the name of someone who worked to negate your very existence."

Critics have demanded that NASA remove James Webb's name from the project.

In another post, published on Monday (11 July), Phil Plait, who worked on the Hubble Space Telescope, said while it 'wasn't clear what his exact role was', 'there was a culture of oppression in NASA, and he ran the shop'.

He wrote: "He acquiesced to it. He was also Undersecretary of the State Department when hundreds of people were fired for being homosexual or for suspicion of being homosexual. That’s pretty damning."

However, despite the controversy surrounding the mission, NASA this week released a statement, saying it saw no reason to change the name.

NASA Press Secretary Jackie McGuinness told CNET: "NASA's History Office conducted an exhaustive search through currently accessible archives on James Webb and his career.

"Our historians also talked to experts who previously researched this topic extensively.

"NASA found no evidence at this point that warrants changing the name of the 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: Alamy

Topics: NASA, US News, Science