NASA astrophysicist resigns after refusal to change the name of the James Webb telescope due to homophobia


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“NASA is not worth my time.” The refusal of the space agency to change the name of the brand new James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) – honors a former director accused of homophobia – has not been well received by the scientific community. The strongest answer has been given by astrophysics
Lucianne Walkowicz
, who has announced her immediate resignation as an advisor to NASA, which she accuses of a lack of transparency and disparage the rights of LGTBI people.

Since last May, more than 1,200 people have signed a petition promoted by four distinguished astronomers, including Walkowicz herself, from the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, to change the name of the James Webb, considered the best telescope of all time and to be released in December. The reason is that Webb, who died in 1992, held various leadership positions in the Truman administration during a period when federal employees were fired because of their sexual orientation. NASA launched an investigation to find out to what extent its former administrator from 1961 to 1968 was involved in these persecutions. However, he found no evidence to support the homophobia allegations and decided not to change the name. The fact that the details of the internal investigation were not made public outraged some astronomers.

“Frivolous and pathetic”

Along the same lines, Walkowicz accuses NASA of a lack of transparency and of having carried out a not very thorough investigation. “This frivolous and pathetic response,” he says in a
open letter-
sends a clear message of NASA’s position on the rights of queer astronomers. “

The researcher admits “stunned” by the fact that the space agency has “so little information about its own participation in the systematic oppression” and points to Bill Nelson, current head of the agency, as an unreliable figure, “undecided of the climate change until 2018 and opposed to same-sex marriage until 2013 ».

In the letter, Walkowicz reminds Clifford Norton, who in the 60s was subjected to an extrajudicial interrogation at NASA headquarters and later fired for being suspected of being gay. And he accuses the agency of valuing the opinions of heterosexual people more than homosexuals. For this reason, he has decided to resign to continue his work at the
NASA Astrophysics Advisory Committee
. “I don’t play the game when I think serious mistakes or bad decisions are being made. And I do not participate in things that seem ridiculous to me, “he justifies himself.

“I do not plan to use the current name of JWST, and I encourage others who read this letter to do the same,” concludes the researcher, while betting that the telescope be named after
Harriet Tubman
, a black woman who fought to end slavery in the United States in the 19th century and used the stars to guide slaves to freedom.

Considered the successor to the iconic Hubble, the James Webb has cost more than 7.4 billion euros. It will be able to see farther than any other telescope, to the point of observing what the first galaxies looked like. Plus, you’ll be able to probe potentially habitable worlds and explore the mysteries of dark energy.

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