NASA does not want to rename the James Webb Space Telescope

Webb served in the US government when the expulsion of homosexuals was considered acceptable

At the heart of the debate lies the question of the responsibility of government officials for the discriminatory actions and strategies in the institutions they run. Webb headed NASA between 1961 and 1968, at the height of the research programs that eventually sent astronauts to the Moon. Critics point out that Webb was responsible in 1963 when Clifford Norton, a suspected gay employee, was fired.

Odom says he investigated Norton more closely to see if Webb was involved in the dump: “It just didn’t work out.”

Critics say the broader context is important in assessing Webb’s legacy. Webb was active in the United States government—among other things, he held the influential position of Under Secretary of State from 1949 to 1952, during the Truman government—when the expulsion of homosexuals was deemed acceptable and even promoted.

Rolf DannerAn astronomer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California and chair of the American Astronomical Society’s Sexual and Gender Minority Steering Committee, says Webb was likely an effective manager in this regard. “I just don’t think that after more than 60 years it makes the right choice for NASA’s most important science project.”

“Webb has done his job, through thick and thin, and he will go down in history.”
(Peter Gau, Planetenforscher)

As a successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, the JWST will study cosmic phenomena such as star formation and the evolution of galaxies and exoplanets. The mission’s international partners include the European and Canadian space agencies. It was created in 2002 by a former NASA chief Sean O’Keefe His name, who wanted to highlight Webb’s achievements in government. “Webb had the ability to bring people from different disciplines together and work together on something greater than themselves,” says O’Keefe, who is now at Syracuse University in New York. According to him, NASA would not have been the same today had it not been for Chief Webb, and the agency’s investigation supports the conclusion he and others reached: “This really is a person of character.”

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However, some feel that Webb’s achievements would not justify naming the telescope after him, given the context in which he worked. “Webb has done his job, through thick and thin, and he will go down in history,” said Peter Gao, a planetary scientist at the Carnegie Institution. “There is no need to continue the celebration, considering what happened during his tenure.”

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