James Webb Telescope: Almost Ready

James Webb Telescope: Almost Ready – Can a space telescope be a symbol of homophobia? And above all, even if it were, could it have become so twenty years after its construction and naming? Apparently, yes… in the era of Politically Correct can really open such a debate!

Unintended victim: the James Webb Space Telescope, the designated successor to the historic Hubble Telescope that is set to launch next October 31 to allow NASA a strengthening of its deep space exploration capability.

Costing more than $8 billion during a program that has exceeded 10 billion, developed over two decades with the support of the European Space Agency, equipped with a mirror with a diameter of 6.5 meters, much larger than that of Hubble 2.4 meters, and sensors of the latest generation, the James Webb Telescope is a true masterpiece of engineering and science.

But according to some, it has a flaw: the name! Initially, when the telescope was designed in the ’90s, its name was supposed to be an aseptic “Next Generation Space Telescope”, but in 2002 it was decided to give it the name of James Edwin Webb. And who was he to deserve such an honor?

James Edwin Webb was the second person to ever lead NASA, at the helm from 1961 until 1968 during the storied Apollo era.

Thanks to his forward vision and administrative skill, Webb is credited with establishing NASA’s aerospace infrastructure and scientific focus that has made NASA the undisputed worldwide leader in space exploration and research for the half-century since Apollo 8, the first mission to take humans beyond Earth orbit.

In the heat of the space race, Webb emphasized that NASA maintains a balance between its mission of placing humans in space and on the Moon and its mission of scientific exploration realized mainly through uncrewed missions.

Webb was a proponent and director of the Pioneer and Mariner programs during the Kennedy and Johnson presidencies. It was as a result of Webb’s prescience that NASA developed rockets not only for military and propaganda purposes but for scientific ones as well, intending to use American technology to learn about Earth’s solar system and beyond.

Without that focus, the Hubble would never have been constructed and astronomical research would have been set back by decades. Every astronomer working today owes a debt to Webb.

The point, however, is this… For several months, scientists led by three young astronomers: Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, Sarah Tuttle, Lucianne Walkowicz, and astrophysicist Brian Nord, have been waging a battle against the memory of James Webb by demanding that the telescope be renamed so as not to offend the homosexual community.

No less. According to their enlightened and unquestionable opinion, Webb would in fact have made himself an “accomplice” of the Lavander Scare, the “witch-hunt against the American gay community” that in the 1950s would have led to the “removal of thousands of employees” from American administrations.

This was obviously taken seriously by the more ideologized part of the scientific community. And apparently over 1,500 physicists, mathematicians, astronomers and scholars have signed a petition aiming at the re-titling of the telescope; What about NASA?

Well… the space agency has stated that it “wants to see this through.” Evidently, in times like these, where ethics and politics are completely subjugated to the dictates of the so-called “cancel culture”, NASA did not feel like ignoring certain pressures.

It could have answered that “the reconsideration on the name is out of the question”, or it could have completely ignored the requests of the gang of four, but instead it didn’t: it charged Brian Odom, historian of the agency, to investigate the archives to understand if Webb was actually guilty of some “crime” during his mandate.

It was a “pilatesque” stance, but one that was fundamental in stalling the debate that was unleashed. Of course, it is ironic that NASA should stick its nose into the life of the man who directed it during the most impetuous period of its history, helping to organize 75 missions and laying the groundwork for the 1969 moon landing.

But in the face of politically correct., every bank yields and the accusation of homophobia becomes a posthumous stigma for the man who wrote the history of the space race.

The dedication to Webb, after all, dates back to 2002 and it is symptomatic of the climate of the American debate of the present era that the controversy came to light almost twenty years and three administrations after the launch of the program.

The issue is certainly not only of media character: the James Webb Telescope has to go into orbit within a couple of months and a possible re-naming would also imply an update of programs, software, and calculation tools today oriented on the current name of the instrument.

And above all it would put it excessively in the media storm in a phase in which its delicate condition requires security and low profile: the Space Telescope, in fact, will be launched from Kourou, base in French Guiana, and will have to be brought there by ship during a mission on which NASA wants to keep the maximum confidentiality.

The telescope is too expensive to afford the risk of sabotage, too precious certain materials present in its structure to expose it to the risk of theft, too much the delay accumulated on a launch initially scheduled for 2007 to suffer new mishaps.

Needless to say that these dynamics have little to do with a scientific institution that has done much for the technological and human progress of the United States in recent decades and that now finds itself with the main mission of its recent history under attack for the witch-hunt climate prevailing in the era of political correctness.

But specifically, what is true about what the four Inquisitors claim? Let’s see. Before joining NASA, Webb had various roles within the US government. In a historical period, the one after World War II, in which especially in the state administration you could be fired because of an unorthodox sexual orientation.

During the Cold War, homosexuals were in fact considered easily blackmailed by foreign agents and therefore dangerous to state security: that kind of discrimination, in a very bigoted era, was, therefore, a socially accepted and institutionalized system.

Well … The charge to Webb by the Four would be to have promoted this type of policy between 1949 and 1952, supporting a senator who had a key role in the persecution and participating in meetings in which decisions were taken to address homophobic and discriminatory.

Apart from the stupidity of the accusations, which do not take into account a context more than seventy years old, not everyone agrees with this conclusion: the historian David Johnson, the author in 2004 of a book on the Lavender Scare, argues that, as far as is known from the documents, Webb would not have had any important role in the discrimination and only participated in a meeting at the White House that aimed to contain the persecutory attitude of the members of Congress.

The same thing is asserted by Hakeem Oluseyi: Astrophysicist, professor, television host, and science communicator (African-American!), who after in-depth research has peremptorily excluded that during his mandate James Webb has ever manifested particularly hostile attitudes, beyond the social convictions of the time, towards the homosexual community.

In other words, there is no evidence whatsoever that Webb himself favored, developed, or actively implemented anti-gay legislation. He was, in the authors’ deliberately vague words, “in part responsible” and “aware” of a policy “enforced by others.”

The worst that can be said, it seems, is that “there is no record of him choosing to stand up for the humanity of those being persecuted.” Note, here, how the absence of evidence becomes evidence of absence, a classic logical fallacy.

The question that remains is what any of this has to do with a space telescope; or, more specifically, why the astronomy research community should care about James Webb’s failure to be a pro-gay activist at a time when being one would almost certainly have accomplished nothing aside from the sabotaging of his own career, likely with the result that he would never have been able to promote astronomical research at NASA.

The anti-Webb activists have no answer except the melodramatic assertion that “many queer scientists fundamentally do not feel safe in their workplaces” today and a febrile rhetorical question: “What signal does it send,” they ask, “to current and future generations of scientists when we prioritize the legacies of complicit government officials over the dreams of the next generation?”

I’m not sure who nominated these authors as the adjudicators of the next generation’s dreams but even conceding them such authority cannot disguise their use of a false dilemma.

Naming a telescope after Webb doesn’t send any particular signal about gay rights, now firmly established in American law and attitudes. If the naming sends any signal, it is simply that a man like Webb deserves recognition for his demonstrated contribution to astronomical research.

Purging him, on the other hand, sends a stark signal about the runaway craze of cancel culture, confirming that decades after one’s death, one’s legitimate achievements can be smeared by activists who comb through every recorded utterance and action to find the taint of a retroactively-imposed ethical failure.

So convinced are the authors that they have arrived at the end of history that they cannot imagine themselves condemned for an insufficient defense of another’s humanity. The authors’ choice to replace Webb is almost laughably formulaic.

They advocate the telescope’s renaming after an escaped 19th-century slave woman and abolitionist, Harriet Tubman. It is not known that Tubman ever gave a thought to astronomical research, but the activists claim that she “almost certainly used the North Star […] to navigate her way to freedom.”

If that seems a tenuous connection to high-level astronomical research, then you undoubtedly haven’t engaged in an extensive enough consideration of white male evil. As we are informed, “The time for lionizing leaders who acquiesced in a history of harm is over.”

That puts 99.9 percent of the people who lived before us in the west firmly out of the running for commemoration. The chastisement and bullying of NASA will set an extraordinary precedent.

Why should demands halt with Webb? How is it that the Hubble Space Telescope has retained its imprimatur: surely something insalubrious could be found in the life of its namesake? Why not purge all scientific instruments and discoveries of harmful white male names, beginning with Halley’s Comet, Newton’s Laws of Motion, and Einstein’s Theory of Relativity?

Only time will tell which pale male will be next in line for elimination. I would almost feel like suggesting to these “gentlemen” that they turn their sacred fury for social justice to far more important things than rummaging through a man’s life in search of timeless sins.

Especially in a world where billions of innocent animals (sentient creatures too) are slaughtered every year and in Afghanistan women are persecuted again by Islamic regimes to which they do not hesitate to give their solidarity.

If they are really scientists and not just political agitators, they should have some sense of measure. Or should they? I would almost feel like suggesting to these “gentlemen” that they turn their holy fury for social justice to far more important things than rummaging through a man’s life in search of out-of-time sins.

There are far more terrifying injustices in this world that deserve the attention and indignation of us all. And I think of the billions of innocent animals (sentient creatures too) that every year are brutally murdered in slaughterhouses, or the Afghan women who return to be persecuted by Islamic regimes to which certain pseudo-liberals do not hesitate instead to give their solidarity.

If they are really scientists and not just political agitators, they should have some sense of measure. Or should they? This is a touchy subject, and we will be very interested in hearing your opinion as well. What do you guys think about this whole thing?


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