Sean O’Keefe, the NASA administrator who named the telescope in 2002, said in an email that Webb was “a master of education, technology, science, aerospace and human exploration.”
“Without James Webb’s determination to achieve the boldest vision of his time, our ability to explore today would be very different,” said O’Keefe. “He introduced complex systems management – a discipline to capitalize on NASA’s exceptional technical capabilities at the time.” Mr. O’Keefe added that he was unaware of any evidence that Webb was responsible for the Lavender Scare.
In May, NASA promised a full investigation by its incumbent chief historian Brian Odom. On September 27, the agency issued a statement from current NASA administrator Bill Nelson stating, “We have not yet found any evidence to justify changing the name of the James Webb Space Telescope.” No detailed report has appeared since then.
This enraged many astronomers, and about 1,200 did signed a petition calls for a renaming of the telescope. “Queer people were persecuted under Webb’s leadership,” the petition says in part. “Those who would excuse Webb’s failure to lead cannot also give him credit for his management of Apollo.”
When Dr. Walkowicz heard Nelson’s announcement that he abruptly resigned from his post on the NASA Astrophysics Advisory Committee. “That frivolous, pathetic reaction to the very reasonable questions raised by the astronomical community regarding the name of JWST sends a clear message about NASA’s position on the rights of queer astronomers, ”they wrote in an online statement. “It also speaks to me clearly that NASA doesn’t deserve my time.”
In an email, Dr. Prescod-Weinstein said she was frustrated with the lack of transparency promised. In addition, she said the “no evidence” claim was too strong as it suggested that Webb was not responsible for the homophobia – which is well documented – his team announced during his tenure at NASA.
“If he’s not responsible for the bad things that happened during his tenure, why is he responsible for the good things?” said Dr. Prescod-Weinstein. “There seems to be a bit of double-thinking here where people put him in charge of the things they like about his legacy and pretend he’s only responsible for the things they like.”