They appear in the documentary at least ten space experts who say they are in favor of the JWST name change. Update the telescope name “it would help get the message across that NASA currently does not accept the same kind of intolerance that was widespread in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s”, Explains in the documentary Tessa Fisher, an astronomer from Arizona State University. “I think we can do better than giving the name of a person who participated in the Cold War to a scientific instrument that can answer questions that affect the whole world.“says writer and space historian Audra Wolfe.
The pressures of the LGBT community
Over the past twenty years – with the exception of the current mission – NASA has allowed citizens to suggest the names of spacecraft and rovers even before it generated the current controversy, the process that led to the naming of the telescope – which was initially renamed the Next Generation Space Telescope – it had proved, at the very least, irrational. In general, NASA officials assign the name to space telescopes near the launch, dedicating them to prominent astronomers, as happened with the Hubble, Spitzer, Chandra and Compton telescopes. In the case of the JWST, however, former NASA chief Sean O’Keefe announced that the new tool would be named after Webb – a bureaucrat who led the agency during the Apollo program – twenty years before the launch, moreover without consulting the astronomical community.
Now the dispute over Webb’s legacy has thrown ashadow on the telescope namesake – cost 10 billion dollars – especially among astronomers and space enthusiasts belonging to the lgbtq community. “If you are a cisgender and straight person who is into astronomy it may not seem like such a personal matter – explains Lucianne Walkowicz, astronomer and co-founder of JustSpace -. In my case, however, it ruined the arrival of the first images, which I would like to be thrilled with“.
Walkowicz – along with three colleagues – asked NASA to change the name of the telescope to one petition of 2021 signed by over 1,800 astronomers, many of whom hoped to use the telescope’s instruments for research purposes. The petitioners set out their reasons in a article by Scientific American, released last year. On social media, the article’s lead author, University of New Hampshire astronomer Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, had for years raised her reservations about the homophobic policies in place during Webb’s tenure at NASA. Prescod-Weinstein and others also pointed out that Ultima Thule, the agency’s 2018 name for a celestial body in the Kuiper Belt, had Nazi connotations. The following year, NASA renamed the body Arrokoth.
Despite the protests, however, NASA officials have chosen not to change the name of the telescope. In July 2021, the agency launched an internal investigation, which included documents subsequently acquired by Nature. In September of the same year, current NASA administrator Bill Nelson issued a one-sentence statement to six reporters: “At the moment we have not found any evidence to justify the name change of the James Webb Space Telescope“(in response to which, Walkowicz resigned by the NASA Astrophysics Advisory Committee). At the time, the agency did not grant interviews and did not release any further information. NASA press officers declined to comment with Wired US the documentary or agency policies regarding the naming of space telescopes.