The first images from the James Webb Space Telescope were revealed on Tuesday. The unveiling of the first images from the largest and most advanced space telescope ever built was touted as "revolutionary." The James Webb Space Telescope captured the deepest and highest-resolution images ever taken of the universe. However, some liberals soured the spectacular achievement by disparaging the JWST as a "homophobic telescope" and accusing NASA of memorializing "queerphobia."
In 2002, NASA named the one-of-a-kind space telescope after former NASA administrator James Webb, who ran the fledgling space agency from 1961 to 1968 during the programs of Mercury, Gemini, and some of Apollo. Before NASA, Webb served as undersecretary of state in the U.S. Department of State during the Truman administration.
Critics accuse Webb of being complicit during the Lavender Scare – when government employees were fired for being gay in the 1950s and 1960s.
The Guardian reported, "During Webb’s time as administrator, NASA employee Clifford Norton was fired in 1963 for 'immoral, indecent, and disgraceful conduct' after being interrogated on suspicion of homosexuality. Norton later successfully sued for wrongful dismissal."
Current NASA administrator Bill Nelson said, "We have found no evidence at this time that warrants changing the name of the James Webb Space Telescope."
NASA press secretary Jackie McGuinness said, "NASA's History Office conducted an exhaustive search through currently accessible archives on James Webb and his career. Our historians also talked to experts who previously researched this topic extensively. NASA found no evidence at this point that warrants changing the name of the telescope."
Astrophysicist Hakeem Oluseyi declared in January 2021, "Naming a flagship space observatory after Webb is a fitting recognition of his contributions to NASA science, even if he was just an administrator."
"On the specific allegations against Webb, the evidence is clear," Oluseyi argued. "He was not the initiator of the Lavender Scare and he was not in charge of investigating allegations of 'homosexuality' or deciding the fate of accused individuals."
John Logsdon – a historian with George Washington University who knew Webb – told NPR, "I don't think he took any particular actions that were unacceptable at the time. But in this new 'woke' world, they probably wouldn't be acceptable." He noted that Webb was "a product of the value system of his time."
A petition was launched earlier this year demanding that NASA rename the James Webb Space Telescope. The petition has been signed by more than 1,700 people, who are mostly in the astronomy community.
The website INTO – a "space for the queer community to talk openly" – published an article titled: "Homophobic Telescope Reveals First Hi-Res Images of Deep Space." The article, which was republished on MSN, stated, "But despite this remarkable achievement for science, the JWST continues to stand as a bitter reminder of our country’s willingness to tolerate and even memorialize queerphobia."
Astrophysicist Lisa Harvey-Smith described Webb as "a zealot who drove LGBT+ employees out of NASA, by all accounts."
Astrophysicist Sarah Tuttle claimed, "When your field is homophobic, not only does it actively harm people - it warps your science!"
Chanda Prescod-Weinstein – an assistant professor of physics at the University of New Hampshire who uses the self-description of queer/agender/woman/she – tweeted, "As one of the people who has been leading to push to change the name, today feels bittersweet, I’m so excited for the new images and so angry at NASA HQ. NASA leadership has stubbornly refused to acknowledge that what is now public info about JW’s legacy means he does not merit having a great observatory named after him."
Telescopes are often named after famous astronomers such as Edwin Hubble and Nobel laureate Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar. However, four astronomers want to rename the JWST as the Harriet Tubman Space Telescope because she "almost certainly used the North Star" to "navigate her way to freedom."