According to media reports, US space agency NASA does not intend to rename its much-awaited James Webb Space Telescope, despite controversy over its name.
The $10 billion telescopes, scheduled to launch on December 18, are a technological marvel. Webb will be the largest, most powerful, and most complex space telescope ever built and launched into space.
Touted as the successor to the iconic Hubble Space Telescope, it aims to fundamentally alter our understanding of the universe.
However, the telescope has been mired in controversy after it was named after former NASA administrator James Webb, who went along with government discrimination against gay and lesbian employees in the 1950s and 1960s, NPR reported.
The Webb telescope was formerly known as the “Next Generation Space Telescope” (NGST), but was renamed in September 2002.
When NASA investigated the matter, it found no evidence and decided not to change the telescope’s name.
“We have found no evidence at this time that warrants changing the name of the James Webb Space Telescope,” NASA administrator Bill Nelson, was quoted as saying.
Earlier this year, over 1,200 people, mostly astronomers or astronomy enthusiasts, including scholars who want to use the new telescope for their research, signed a petition urging NASA to rename it.
They alleged that Webb seems to have been complicit in the purge of homosexual people from government jobs during his time in public service, including when he served in a high-level position in the US State Department, the report said.
They cited evidence such as the interrogation of NASA employee Clifford Norton, who was fired in 1963 while Webb was directing the agency.
“The historical record is already clear: under Webb’s leadership, queer people were persecuted,” the letter said.
In response to the controversy, NASA opened an investigation “to examine Webb’s role in government”, but the agency has offered no other details about how that review was conducted or who evaluated its findings, other than mentioning that historians were involved, the report said.
“We’ve done as much as we can do at this point and have exhausted our research efforts,” senior science communications officer Karen Fox told NPR.
“Those efforts have not uncovered evidence warranting a name change.”
Webb is an international collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Canadian Space Agency. It is a large infrared telescope with a 6.5-meter primary mirror.
The telescope will be launched on an Ariane 5 rocket from French Guiana.