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NASA rejects petition to rename $10bn James Webb telescope amid claims he discriminated against gays

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NASA has announced they will not rename the James Webb telescope before its December launch, despite a petition to honor a space pioneer many now consider homophobic.

James Webb was NASA’s second administrator. He chaired the agency from 1961-68, a pivotal time for the early days of space exploration. But in recent years, his legacy has been called into question

Webb, who died in 1992 at age 85, was the second administrator in NASA history, taking over in 1961 at the request of John F. Kennedy.

He ran the agency until 1968 and was instrumental in the Apollo programs that would see Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walk on the moon the year after his departure.

But in recent years, the 2002 decision to name a new $10 billion telescope has sparked criticism after Webb.

Webb has been accused of being homophobic after his role in the 1963 firing of a gay NASA employee was increased. Questions were also raised about his participation in a ‘Lavender Scare’ in 1950-52 when he was in the State Department, and 91 gay men were ‘purged’.

But on September 30, NASA administrator Bill Nelson said they had decided not to rename the telescope.

“We have not found any evidence at this time that would justify changing the name of the James Webb Space Telescope,” he said. NPR.

The James Webb telescope is being assembled for the first time.  The $10 billion telescope, 100 times more powerful than Hubble, will launch in December

The James Webb telescope is being assembled for the first time. The $10 billion telescope, 100 times more powerful than Hubble, will launch in December

The James Webb telescope is so big that it has to be folded into the rocket and then unfolded once it is in orbit

The James Webb telescope is so big that it has to be folded into the rocket and then unfolded once it is in orbit

Technicians and scientists view one of the first two flight mirrors of the Webb Telescope in the cleanroom of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland

Technicians and scientists view one of the first two flight mirrors of the Webb Telescope in the cleanroom of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland

Nelson’s decision has angered those who campaigned to rename the $10 billion telescope, described by NASA as the largest, most powerful and most complex space telescope ever built and launched into space.

“It will fundamentally change our understanding of the universe,” NASA promises.

The telescope will launch into orbit on December 18 after 25 years of work by 1,200 scientists, technicians and engineers from 14 countries.

It’s seen as an upgrade to the Hubble telescope, and it’s 100 times more powerful: It’s so big that it can be folded, origami-style, to fit inside the rocket, NASA says, and act “like a transformer.” ‘ will unfold in space.

Webb’s actions have been the subject of intense debate.

Webb stands next to Kennedy as he hands the medal for distinguished federal civil service to Dr. Robert R. Gilruth, director of the Manned Spacecraft Center.  Astronauts Alan Shepard (far left) and John Glenn (second from left) look on

Webb stands next to Kennedy as he hands the medal for distinguished federal civil service to Dr. Robert R. Gilruth, director of the Manned Spacecraft Center. Astronauts Alan Shepard (far left) and John Glenn (second from left) look on

Webb is photographed at a 1962 NASA press conference in Washington DC

Webb is photographed at a 1962 NASA press conference in Washington DC

Trained as a lawyer, he was Deputy Secretary of State at the State Department in the 1950s when there were concerns that homosexuals were “deviations” who, if not allowed to serve in the civil service, could be open to blackmail. .

Was James Webb homophobic?

Webb’s importance to the US space program is undisputed, but his attitude has sparked much debate.

His critics say he should not be honored when so many pioneers are ignored – especially women and people of color. His supporters say he was a product of his time, and his actual involvement in matters related to him is disputed.

Webb speaking at the White House in 1963, with Kennedy on his right and Lyndon B. Johnson on his left

Webb speaking at the White House in 1963, with Kennedy on his right and Lyndon B. Johnson on his left

Webb was in the State Department during the so-called “Lavender Scare” of 1950-52, when 91 homosexuals were forced to give up their jobs.

At the time, it was illegal for gays to serve in the civil service, and being gay was seen as amoral. Gays were often seen as targets for blackmail.

Webb’s defenders say there is no evidence for his actions during the Lavender Scare.

Webb is also criticized for presiding over the 1963 firing of Clifford L. Norton, who was arrested by the Morals Squad in Washington DC.

NASA accused him of “immoral, indecent and disgraceful conduct.”

But Webb’s supporters say he, as manager of the agency, would not have been involved in firing a low budget manager. In addition, when Norton successfully filed a lawsuit for wrongful dismissal in 1969, Webb was not named in the case at all.

Led by President Harry Truman, a gay purge that became known as the Lavender Scare was carried out – 91 State Department employees lost their jobs.

Still, Webb’s supporters — including the team behind Chasing the Moon, the PBS documentary — point out that there was no evidence of Webb’s direct involvement in the Lavender Scare.

Webb was also with the State Department when the idea of ​​psychological warfare was introduced.

A more troubling case is Clifford L. Norton, a NASA budget manager, who was arrested in 1963 by the “Morals Squad” in Washington DC and subsequently fired for being gay.

NASA accused him of “immoral, indecent and disgraceful conduct.”

Norton filed a lawsuit in 1969 and won a landmark case banning homosexuals from the civil service.

Webb was the NASA administrator at the time and thus is held responsible for the firing.

Still, his supporters say he wouldn’t have been involved in firing a low-level employee like Norton. Furthermore, the Chasing the Moon team points out that Webb’s name was never mentioned in the 1969 case, which was brought against the head of the civil service, John Macy.

The organizers of the petition against Webb’s honor with the telescope were angry at the decision to go ahead.

NASA has decided to keep the name (chosen by a former NASA administrator to… change the tradition of naming space telescopes after scientists and honor another administrator?) — and ‘announced’ by issuing a barely there statement. leaks to limited journalists,” said Sarah Tuttle, an astrophysicist who co-created the petition with three others.

“This morning I’m especially heartbroken because I’ll be attending the National NASA Space Grant Meeting for the next two days.

What a slap in the face, on the day this gathering begins, to tell people, ‘Thank you for educating minorities in the ranks – we don’t care how our decisions affect them. answer questions.”

“NASA relies on cowardice and poor PR technique to leak that they won’t rename the JWST, named after a career administrator who oversaw homophobic persecution and psychological warfare development, and ignored 1,200 astronomers’ request for reconsideration.”

The astronauts known as the Mercury Seven are seen in 1964 listening to Webb on stage.  From left to right: Deke Slayton, Wally Schirra, Donald Cooper, Scott Carpenter, Gus Grisson, John Glenn, Alan Shepard

The astronauts known as the Mercury Seven are seen in 1964 listening to Webb on stage. From left to right: Deke Slayton, Wally Schirra, Donald Cooper, Scott Carpenter, Gus Grisson, John Glenn, Alan Shepard

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