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The James Webb Telescope will remain the James Webb Telescope

NASA has just completed a review of its historical records that may incriminate James Edwin Webb, former administrator of the agency, in cases of homophobic discrimination. The James Webb Telescope, named in his honor, will eventually keep his name.

NASA is preparing to ship its new gem, the James Webb Telescope, to French Guiana ahead of its scheduled launch on December 18. If from a technical point of view everything seems to be going as planned, the agency has been looking into another problem for several weeks.

A petition to change the name

Indeed, the observatory was named in 2002 in honor of James Edwin Webb, NASA's second administrator from February 14, 1961 to October 7, 1968. However, some accused Webb of supporting discrimination against LGBTQ people during the wave of persecution suffered in the 1950s in the United States, when he was at NASA and earlier at the State Department.

"As a member of management, Webb was responsible for the policies enacted under his leadership, including the homophobic policies that were in place when he became a director from NASA “, wrote Scientific American at the time. “Some argue that if Webb was complicit, then everyone in the administration of the agency at the time was too. We agree. Nevertheless, NASA is not launching a telescope named after its entire administration “.

"Many astronomers feel a debt of gratitude for Webb's work", continued the review. “However, while appreciation and nostalgia are important, they are not enough. Webb may have played a positive role at NASA, but his larger legacy beyond the agency is also relevant “.

A few weeks ago, a petition also went live urging NASA to rename the telescope. Putting Webb's name on such a high-profile assignment would indeed send a troublesome message about the agency's commitment to inclusion and diversity , according to the authors of the petition as well as the signatories (1200 at the end of September).

The JWT remains the JWT

Also, for several weeks, NASA historians conducted a review of historical documents to corroborate or not these allegations. Finally, NASA will not rename its long-awaited telescope. “We have found no evidence at this time that justifies changing the name of the James Webb Space Telescope “, current NASA boss Bill Nelson told NPR.

The news was not well received by University of Washington astrophysicist Sarah Tuttle, who initiated this petition. "NASA is relying on cowardice and poor public relations technique to disclose that it will not rename the JWST, after a career administrator who oversaw homophobic persecution and the development of psychological warfare, ignoring 1,200 astronomers' request for reconsideration “, she wrote on Twitter this Thursday. “They ignored both the petitioners and the advisory committee who called for an investigation, and provided no details of their research or decision “, she added.