Is NASA right to keep James Webb telescope name amidst homophobia claims?
- National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is a government agency that employs nearly 18,000 civil servants and with an annual budget of over $23 billion in 2021. Congress passed legislation to form NASA on July 29, 1958 in response to the Soviet Union launching Sputnik I on October 4, 1957, and then Sputnik II on November 3, 1957. The “Space Race” was on!
- James Webb ran the Apollo Moon program from February 1961 to October 1968 with the goal of putting a man on the moon. President Lyndon B. Johnson awarded James Webb the Presidential Medal of Freedom on December 9, 1968, for this outstanding management of NASA.
- Under President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s 1953 “Security Requirements for Government Employment” Executive Order (#10450), “sexual perversion” (aka homosexuality) was considered a fireable offense.
- NASA’s announced launchdate for the James Webb Space Telescope is October 31, 2021. The telescope, Webb, is designed to “build upon the incredible legacies of the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes, by observing the infared universe and exploring every phase of cosmic history.” Through Webb, NASA will be able to “detect light from the first generation of galaxies” to “study the atmospheres of nearby exoplanets for possible signs of habitability.”
A petition signed by leading astronauts and astrophysicists urges NASA to rename the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) on the basis that its namesake is unworthy of the title. James Webb served as administrator of NASA during the 1960s. There is evidence that 'queer people were persecuted' during his time in office, as Webb established 'homophobic' policies that unconstitutionally injured LQBTQ employees.
More than 1,200 Space scientists, researchers, and a small percentage of concerned persons around the US have been railing for change for seven years. The telescope is a beacon for exploration beyond Earth, and it's ready to launch. America has a duty to represent this 21st-century historical landmark with a name that upholds American ideals of freedom and inclusivity. Harriet Tubman is a proposed replacement, as her unwavering bravery and knowledge of the stars ensured the freedom of 300 people still enslaved.
The lens of the world will behold new discoveries into our unknown universe through the eyes of this telescope. Its mission statement says the telescope will 'study every phase in the history of our universe.' The caliber of its name must uphold its forthcoming legacy. Renaming the telescope will not rectify the injustices committed against the LGBTQ community by NASA. But doing so will make a meaningful statement, equally propelling our humanitarian efforts with our technological prowess.
Ignored complaints against James Webb create a dangerous president for other US government agencies treating LGBTQ employees unjustly. It sets the tone for the United States government to continue disregarding the wellbeing of the LGBTQ community. NASA must take a proactive stance to protect its astronauts, astrophysicists, astronomers, and beyond.
James Webb is an icon at NASA. Without his leadership and persuasive tactics in Washington, NASA would not be what it is, and we may not have put a man on the moon. It is only fitting then that the newest super satellite is named after him. The allegation against Webb is that he was complicit in firing those in the workforce who were gay. Whether this is true and how much he was involved is questionable. NASA, who has not shied away from renaming things and recently launched a Mission Equity initiative, conducted an investigation and could not find sufficient evidence of wrongdoing on Webb's part.
Webb may have enforced federal policy at the time against gays, but that doesn't make him a terrible person. He was doing his job and following federal law, as were most other people in the government. At the time, it was a common belief that homosexuals possessed 'dubious moral character' and were not suitable for government positions. If Webb were alive and discriminating against people today, that would be a different issue, but it's wrong to try and judge him by today's cultural standards. Very few people go through life without making a mistake or being guilty of some moral wrong.
Hubble apparently campaigned against allowing Black people into higher education, Einstein was racist, and MLK reportedly had unethical associations with women. Yet, we still honor them for their achievements outside of these flaws. If we persist in erasing people whose histories carry some stain, nobody will be left. The telescope is about recognizing Webb for his contribution to space exploration, not his rumored views on homosexuals.