why within NASA there are those who want to change the name

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The name of the space telescope that wants to reveal the secrets of the universe seemed appropriate. James Webb was not a scientist or an engineer, but he was a key figure in the early days of space exploration and was the head of NASA from 1961 to 1968. New documents have revealed something that was not known about its past, and now that is causing pressure for this organization to change the name of this great space observatory.

What happened. A few days ago the journal Nature revealed how internal NASA documents pointed (again, as we will see later) to the pressure the agency was receiving to change the name of the James Webb Space Telescope. almost published 400 pages of post in which it was clear that the legacy of James Webb was more problematic than it seemed. NASA knew about it, but did not and has not done anything about it.

The ‘lilac terror’. The mid-20th century saw a shameful persecution of gay federal employees. Similar to Joseph McCarthy witch hunt —although communists were persecuted there— this process saw gays and lesbians who worked for the government as a risk to national security. They were watched, harassed and fired. It was the ‘lilac terror’ (‘lavender scare’), a name that was based on the association of the color lavender with homosexuality.

This is how the James Webb Space Telescope is going to change the way we see the universe

Webb and the homosexual persecution. Before heading NASA, Webb was the deputy head of the US State Department. In a history book about the ‘Lavender Scare’ published in 2004 it was stated that “Webb met with President Truman on June 22, 1950 to establish how the White House, the State Department and the Huey Committee should ‘collaborate on homosexual investigation'”. What is certain is that before Webb left the State Department in 1952 he laid off a large number of LGBTQ+ employees.

The ‘Lavender Scare’ was also present at NASA. During his tenure between 1961 and 1968 at NASA there was an interrogation of Clifford Norton, who was suspected of being gay. After hours of proceedings, he was fired for “immoral, indecent and disgraceful conduct.”

NASA avoided controversy before launch. The subject has been talked about for years: in 2015 a journalist already discovered that secret from Webb’s past, and a year ago a movement was created to rename the space telescope. More than 1,200 people—many of them astronomers and astrophysicists—signed a request to change the name, but to no avail.

NASA investigated the issue and concluded that there was “no evidence” to support the request to rename the space observatory. This was indicated by Karen Fox, head of communication at the agency, who explained on NPR that the efforts to clarify the facts “have not revealed evidence that warrants a name change.” The mission, which had suffered several delays, ended up being launched on December 25, 2021, months after the controversy.

But the pressure grows. The publication of the aforementioned 400 pages of internal emails shows that NASA was aware of Webb’s past and yet had turned a blind eye. The LGBTQ+ collective in the scientific community is insisting that this change is necessary and the cost of making it would be symbolic.

NASA has already changed names in the past: the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope ended up being called the Vera C. Rubin Observatory in 2019 in honor of this scientist and her key work in the discovery of dark matter. The agency now has a serious image and reputation problem with the LGBTQ+ community, but especially with LGBTQ+ scientists.

Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, a theoretical cosmologist at the University of New Hampshire, affirmed that change was possible and recalled that it was good to rectify: “as scientists we often realize that we are wrong, and we establish a new path”.

The name of the space telescope that wants to reveal the secrets of the universe seemed appropriate. James Webb was…

The name of the space telescope that wants to reveal the secrets of the universe seemed appropriate. James Webb was…

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