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NASA Adviser Quits After Agency Keeps Telescope Named After Official Who Backed Anti-LGBTQ Campaigns

© NASA . NASA Goddard (screenshot)The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST)
The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) - Sputnik International, 1920, 15.10.2021
Astronomer Lucianne Walkowicz has resigned from a NASA advisory committee in protest of a $10 billion telescope being named after a former administrator who oversaw a purge of employees from government service because of their sexuality.
Walkowicz, an astronomer from the Adler Planetarium in Chicago who identifies as nonbinary, penned an open letter to NASA’s Astrophysics Advisory Committee (APAC) Tuesday blasting the lack of transparecy in the decision-making process that led to officials naming a new flagship telescope after James Webb (sometimes called JWST or Webb).
Walkowicz said the decision showed the agency was not deserving of their time.
NASA named the telescope after Webb, who served as NASA's chief from 1961 to 1968 and was credited for leading the agency through its Apollo missions. Additionally, he was known to enforce anti-gay policies at the US State Department and NASA.
An open petition was signed by more than 1,200 people, including Walkowicz, demanding that the James Webb Space Telescope be renamed. The petition cited that Webb served as the US Undersecretary of State during a period where thousands of federal employees were dismissed and forced to resign because of their sexuality, known as the “Lavender Scare.”
NASA made claims of opening an investigation into Webb’s conduct — and after finding no evidence — decided to not 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.
In the open letter, Walkowicz said the decision “sends a clear message of NASA’s position on the rights of queer astronomers,” who by his beliefs, acted in “bad faith.”
“I'm not the first and won’t be the last driven out of a NASA space, where evidently straight people's opinions are valued and taken more seriously than queer people's experiences. I don’t plan on using JWST’s current name, and I encourage others reading this letter to do the same,” Walkowicz added.
NASA says the Webb telescope “will be the largest, most powerful and complex space telescope ever built and launched into space,” noting that “it will fundamentally alter our understanding of the universe.”
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