Because James Webb is a name that the lgbt community doesn't like

Because James Webb is a name that the lgbt community doesn't like

There is an aspect that has dampened the enthusiasm of astronomers towards the images of stellar nebulae, exoplanets and distant galaxies made by the James Webb Telescope (Jwst) and released by NASA last week. US space agency officials decided to rename the powerful new space telescope in honor of former administrator James Webb, who headed the agency and worked for the State Department in the 1950s and 1960s. Webb, however, would have been complicit in discriminatory policies against homosexual government employees during the so-called Lavender Scare, the wave of panic for the "moral" stability of US institutions, which led to the enactment of federal regulations that aimed at the purge of staff gay from the government apparatus

The incident prompted Katrina Jackson and other employees of the non-profit organization JustSpace Alliance to make a new 41-minute documentary entitled Behind the Name, published on YouTube earlier this month. The documentary examines the story of Webb, the opaque naming process by NASA and the growing pressure from the astronomical community, which would like to change the name of the telescope and use alternatives such as Harriet Tubman Space Telescope, Just Wonderful Space Telescope or simply the actual acronym. "The goal is to change the name and get NASA to have an honest and open discussion about the naming process," says Jackson, who works in the field of video production working part-time with NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center and other organizations.

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The documentary Jackson's documentary analyzes the controversial policies applied by the US government during the Cold War period, when employees of government agencies - including those of NASA - suspected of belonging to the lgbtq community were considered a threat to security, and were subject to investigation, interrogation, and pressure to resign or resign. The documentary also examines documents published in March by a Nature investigation, which seeks to reconstruct the extent to which NASA officials were aware of these policies during an internal investigation conducted before the launch of the telescope in 2021. .

Although information on individual episodes is limited, both the documentary and the Nature investigation report a particularly well-documented case, that relating to the lawsuit brought by a NASA employee against his dismissal. In 1963, according to the lawsuit, after being seen in a car with another man, Clifford Norton was arrested by the police; then the security officers of the agency took the man to the NASA headquarters, interrogating him all night. Norton was told that it was "agency practice" to fire people for "homosexual conduct." The Nature article points out that Norton's lawsuit was cited as part of NASA's 2021 internal investigation, a demonstration that agency officials had some evidence of the discriminatory policies applied during Webb's tenure. >
The spectacular and unprecedented view of the galaxy M74 from the James Webb Telescope The astronomer Gabriel Brammer obtained a collage by superimposing three images of the Miri instrument on board the space telescope. The galaxy in question is one of the best-known spirals in our cosmic neighborhood.While measures targeting LGBTQ workers were common in the 1950s and 1960s US, NASA had the authority to establish its own under Webb's leadership. rules on the personnel to be fired and their reasons. “It is undeniable that Webb played an important role during the Lavender Scare. The only thing that remains to be understood from the historical point of view is whether or not he was emotionally involved in the persecution of LGBTQ people, "wrote a NASA expert historian, as reported in the documentary. Even today, Webb's personal opinions - who died in 1992 - remain unclear.

At least ten space experts appear in the documentary who say they are in favor of the JWST name change. Updating the name of the telescope "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 has participated in the Cold War in a scientific instrument that can answer questions that affect the whole world ", says the writer and historian of the space Audra Wolfe.

The pressures of 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 had initially been dubbed the Next Generation Space Telescope - it had proved to be at least unreasonable. 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 its launch, for di more without consulting the astronomical community.

Now the dispute over Webb's legacy has cast a shadow over the telescope of the same name - costing 10 billion dollars - especially among astronomers and space enthusiasts belonging to the lgbtq community. "If you are a cisgender and straight person who deals with astronomy, it might not seem 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, of which I would like be enthusiastic ".

Walkowicz - along with three colleagues - asked NASA to change the name of the telescope in a 2021 petition signed by more than 1,800 astronomers, many of whom hoped to use the telescope's instruments for purposes of research. The petitioners set out their reasons in a Scientific American article, published 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 effect 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.

There is a "red dot" in the first image of the James Webb Telescope that is of extraordinary importance NASA scientists have seen a very distant galaxy with a chemical signature that they did not expect and that could help them understand the early universe 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 the which, Walkowicz resigned from NASA's astrophysics advisory board). At the time, the agency did not grant interviews and did not release any further information. NASA press officers refused to comment with US on the documentary or the agency's policies regarding the naming of space telescopes.

The pressure on NASA, however, has not stopped. In November 2021, and again last March, the American Astronomical Society (Aas), the leading astronomical organization in the United States, sent a statement to the agency's leadership asking them to commit to completing the investigation and publishing a report. full. Regardless of what happens to the JWST, naming "should be an open process with broad community input for future telescopes and missions," said in an interview with US Danner, head of the AAS Committee on Sexual Orientation and Gender Minorities in Astronomy. Telescopes should be named after "people who identify with the vision we want to have for the future."

US astronomical institutions have had to contend with controversy and accusations of discrimination in the past. As in the case of the giant thirty-meter telescope funded by the National Science Foundation and currently under construction on Hawaii's Mauna Kea volcano, which has sparked local opposition. A few years ago, some scandals related to inappropriate sexual behavior involving planetary scientists and astronomers shook the space community. In 2019, a study documented how sexual and gender minorities face harassment at work in the astronomy field, while an influential report last year gave an account of gender bias and the lack of ethnic diversity in the sector. >
Jackson hopes his documentary will reach a wide audience, convincing people to take these issues seriously. "I think they should definitely reevaluate the name and take into account the feelings of the astronomical community," she comments.

This article originally appeared on US.

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