New documents indicate that NASA officials have dismissed concerns raised by the LGBTQ community about the name of its newest observatory, the James Webb Space Telescope.
NASA was aware that discrimination against LGBT people had occurred at the agency under the leadership of 1960s Director James Webb when it was Refused to delete the man’s name New documents obtained by Nature reveal its main mission.
In early 2021, a group of astronomers asked NASA to change the name of the Century Space Observatory, worth $10 billion. James Webb Space Telescope, arguing that his actions contributed to the “Lavender terror” targeting LGBT people in the government at the time. NASA rejected the request in September 2021, claiming it had no evidence to support the claim, and did not publish a report on the investigation, according to nature.
Related: How does the James Webb Space Telescope work?
The new documents, obtained under a Freedom of Information Request, tells a different story. They show that NASA was aware of a 1969 court case brought by a former NASA employee who was fired in 1963 because supervisors thought he was gay.
In addition, Nature found that available documents described such practices as being commonplace at NASA during the 1960s, when James Webb was at the helm of the agency.
Among the documents obtained by Nature were emails exchanged between NASA officials and an outside researcher from Spring 2021, which discussed the court’s 1969 ruling, calling it “disturbing.” The outside researcher noted that in the ruling, which rejected the appeal of the fired employee named Clifford Norton, the judge noted that the manager who fired Norton had been told by NASA’s Personnel Office at the time that it was “the custom within the agency” to fire people for “homosexual behavior” ,” according to the journal Nature.
“I think you’ll find this paragraph disturbing,” the external researcher wrote to Eric Smith, James Webb Space Telescope Program Scientist at NASA. “The habit within the agency seems pretty bad,” the researcher wrote, according to Nature.
The documents contain no evidence that James Webb personally targeted LGBT people. However, astronomers opposed to the name assumed that it played a major role in defining the culture in the agency he headed.
During his time at NASA, Webb oversaw the legendary Apollo program that landed humans on the Moon, but also reinforced the agency’s focus on science. He died in 1992. After 13 years, NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe decided to honor his predecessor by naming the largest and most powerful space observatory to date after him.
Modern NASA, which built and launched the James Webb Space Telescope in December 2021, is proud of its commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility.
Agency policy states that “NASA is fully committed to fully engaging and empowering a broad range of people, organizations, capabilities, and assets because we know this best enables us to reach everyone and everything we need to best accomplish our missions,” says Nature.
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