Successor to Hubble Honors Man Who Participated in Effort to Purge LGBT People from Federal Workforce
Due to its ability to see deeper into space-time than any other instrument before it, the Hubble Space Telescope has completely transformed the way we see the universe and ourselves. The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), often nicknamed «the next Hubble», promises to do the same Scheduled to launch later this year, JWST will scan the universe deeper than any optical or infrared telescope before it, promising to show us a vision of galaxies in their infancy and to probe potentially habitable worlds. Data like this not only provides a glimpse into the universe, but also help us, humans, to situate our concerns in their context. It is therefore unfortunate that NASA's current plan is to launch this incredible instrument into space named after a man whose legacy is complicated at best and, at worst, partner in crime.
James Webb, a career civil servant whose time in the State Department under Truman included advancing the development of psychological warfare as a tool of cold war, was later the NASA administrator who oversaw the Apollo program When it arrived at NASA in 1961, his leadership role meant that he was partly responsible for the implementation of what was then federal policy: the purging of LGBT people from the workforce. When he was in the state, this policy was carried out by men who worked under Webb From 1950, he was aware of this policy, and there is clear evidence to suggest that he was involved in supporting the Senate talks that ultimately launched what is now known as the Lavender Fear.
Many astronomers feel a debt of gratitude for Webb's work as a NASA administrator Appreciation and nostalgia for a time when NASA thrived during the Apollo program are understandable as motivations for using the name JWST But if appreciation and nostalgia can be important motivators, they are not enough Although Webb played a positive role at NASA, his larger legacy beyond NASA is relevant Without the knowledge of Webb's silence in the state and his involvement in making psychological warfare a tool of the military-industrial complex, maybe our gratitude for his work was enough. With this knowledge, we think it's time to rename JWST because the name of such an important mission, that promises to live in the popular and scientific psyche for decades, is a reflection of our values.
Towards 2015, The story of Webb's complicity in the persecution has come to light Although some astronomers reacted at the time, many in the community thought the opportunity to change the name of the telescope had passed. Recently, an astronomer reconstructed this conversation in a personal blog, highlighting the fact that a homophobic quote was wrongly attributed to Webb on his Wikipedia page (click here for the original version of the article Driven by this attempt to clean up Webb's image, social media astronomers have begun to argue that in the absence of this specific quote, Webb was not responsible for the homophobic activity.
But nothing central changed Webb was leading and in decision-making discussions as the lavender fear unfolded Additional archival evidence, found by Columbia astronomer Adrian Lucy following the blog post with a quick archive search, highlight Webb's role as a facilitator of anti-gay political discussions with members of the Senate
As a person in a managerial position, Webb was ultimately responsible for the policies adopted under his leadership., including the anti-gay policies that were in place when he later became administrator of NASA. Some argue that if Webb was an accomplice, everyone working in administration at the time was too We agree Fortunately, NASA is not launching a telescope named after the entire administration, and individually its members would be bad choices for honor for some of the same reasons Webb is
Some might be tempted to view the proposal to rename JWST as a dispute with decades of history., but in fact, discrimination against queer people, including scientists, affects the lives and career outcomes of many today and tomorrow. In 2016, the American Physical Society released the report «LGBT Climate in Physics» One of the main findings of the report is that many gay scientists feel fundamentally unsafe in the workplace.. The climate is exclusionary and physicists with overlapping minority identities, including LBGT color physicists, are the most victims of harassment and exclusion. Astronomers / LGBTQIA physicists exist and are marginalized A study of 2021 published in Science finds similar results
This fact is not new, but rather a continuation of the story that dates back to the era of Webb Frank Kameny was an astronomer who was hired by the US Army Map Service When he was unwilling to provide information about his sexual orientation, he was investigated and subsequently fired. His failure to seek justice in the courts for gay rights in the military led him to spend the rest of his life as an activist. Although today's queer liberation organization encourages us to question our relationship with the US military, Kameny's case is a clear example of homophobic injustice during the time Webb was active
At a time when the same hypermasculinistic fears that characterized the fear of lavender and other ideological purges during the Cold War also animate the current embodiment of far-right movements around the world, what signal does this send to current and future generations of scientists when we prioritize the legacies of collusive government officials over the dreams of the next generation? With the launch of JWST in just a few months and a new presidential administration (and a new NASA administrator) taking the helm, NASA has the opportunity to choose a namesake for JWST that will embrace a future of freedom and inspiration for all.
This struggle is not limited to science, nor in the past: just a few months ago, representatives Castro and Cicilline introduced the LOVE Act, who «obliges the state department to set up an independent commission to examine the cases of individuals who have been dismissed for years 1950 because of their sexual orientation, receive testimonials and correct their employment records»Passage of the LOVE Act would not only elicit an apology from Congress for its past complicity in the Lavender Scare, but would offer protections for queer diplomats at home and abroad.
James Webb's legacy is so far from the dream of freedom that is possible through the lens of a telescope, and it's time for NASA to change the name to something better We will use this new telescope to learn more about galactic stories, which will give us a glimpse of the fate that the universe has in store for us. We hope we have already learned some of the lessons of how humanity will move forward here on Earth rather than repeating the mistakes of the past.. There will always be complications when it comes to naming monuments or facilities after individuals No hero is perfect
However, we can certainly name some amazing heroes who worked tirelessly to liberate others Before becoming a conductor on the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman, disabled and enslaved, probably used the north star, just like Henry Bibb did, to navigate towards freedom. Appoint «the next Hubble» le télescope spatial Harriet Tubman (HTST) would ensure that his memory was still alive in the heavens that gave him hope and so many others. The HTST could also serve as a reminder that the night sky is a shared heritage that belongs to all mankind, including LGBTQIA people Gone are the lionesses' days of leaders who chose to be part of a history of prejudice are over We should name the telescopes out of love for those who came before us and paved the way for freedom, and those who will follow us who should be cherished.
Chanda Prescod-Weinstein is Assistant Professor of Physics and Senior Professor in Women and Gender Studies at the University of New Hampshire. She studies dark matter, neutron stars and how assigned identities shape physics knowledge and is the author of The Disordered Cosmos: A Journey into Dark Matter, Spacetime, and Dreams Deferred.
Sarah Tuttle is Assistant Professor of Astronomy at the University of Washington, Seattle She builds astronomical instruments that have been deployed in observatories around the world and sub-orbital Her main area of study is the flow of gas into and out of galaxies through redshifts, and she works to reinvent scientific frameworks through justice and equity.
Lucianne Walkowicz is an astronomer at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago and co-founder of the JustSpace Alliance Walkowicz studies the ethics of space exploration, stellar magnetic activity, how stars influence a planet's ability as a host for alien life and how to use advanced computing to uncover unusual events in large astronomical data sets
Brian Nord is a scientist at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and the University of Chicago He designs algorithms to decode the shape and evolution of the universe from cosmological experiments, and he works to re-imagine and reconstruct research spaces to be fair and equitable.
There is 8 hours – Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, Sarah Tuttle, Lucianne Walkowicz and Brian Nord | Opinion
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