NASA defends decision to retain JWST name

WASHINGTON — NASA officers are standing by their choice to retain the title of the James Webb House Telescope regardless of criticism from some astronomers, together with one who resigned from an advisory committee in protest.

The company stated in a one-sentence assertion in late September {that a} historic overview turned up no proof to again allegations that James Webb oversaw insurance policies earlier in his profession on the State Division to purge the division of LGBTQ workers, in addition to one case involving a NASA worker whereas Webb led the company within the Sixties.

“We’ve got discovered no proof at the moment that warrants altering the title of the James Webb House Telescope,” NASA Administrator Invoice Nelson stated within the assertion supplied to media. Company officers added they’d no different info, together with a report, to offer about that overview.

Many astronomers who signed a petition calling for JWST to be renamed objected to each the choice and the shortage of particulars about it. It prompted Lucianne Walkowicz, an astronomer on the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, to resign from the company’s Astrophysics Advisory Committee, or APAC.

“NASA’s dealing with of the questions relating to James Webb as a alternative for naming its subsequent flagship mission has made a farce of this committee,” Walkowicz wrote in an Oct. 12 open letter, noting APAC has requested the company in regards to the concern for the previous yr. The one-sentence assertion was a “flippant, pathetic response.”

At a gathering of APAC the following day, NASA did present extra details about the investigation. Brian Odom, performing NASA chief historian, mentioned the overview he led into the allegations in opposition to Webb.

“What we discovered was that, with the accessible info that we had,” he concluded, “there was no proof. That doesn’t imply there isn’t proof. It signifies that we discovered no proof on this investigation.”

That overview included interviews with historians who had beforehand studied Webb and examinations their analysis. The company additionally employed a contract historian to enter archives, however a lot of these archives stay closed due to the pandemic, he famous. “As of proper now, with the historic info we’ve in hand, and with the evaluation we’ve executed on the accessible proof, we decided that there isn’t a direct proof.”

Odom confirmed there was no plan to provide a report detailing these findings. “As of now, there isn’t a formal report and there’s no intent to place collectively a proper report,” he stated. “The conversations I’ve had with the administrator and the administrator’s workplace over the course of this investigation was all simply reporting that there was no proof to report at the moment.”

Odom added he was impressed with how Nelson thought-about the difficulty in these conversations. “He positively all the time gave me the impression that he was this objectively, that he did need to see the proof,” he stated.

The problem got here up once more at an Oct. 18 city corridor assembly by NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. The three highest-ranked questions submitted upfront of the occasion had been in regards to the Webb investigation, together with whether or not NASA will launch extra particulars about it.

Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA affiliate administrator for science, recapped the historic overview of Webb. “They discovered, after weighing all of this, no proof to level to Webb’s private involvement in his management position or any motion linked to Webb,” he stated.

“I need to acknowledge that this can be a disappointment to some and even many,” he added. “Whereas historical past is all the time difficult, I’m actively dedicated — and right here I converse for our complete workforce — to show with our actions now that we need to be inclusive.”

On the APAC assembly, Odom stated that the investigation would proceed as soon as historic archives reopen. “We perceive that the previous isn’t closed, and if new proof involves mild, that proof might be offered to the administrator and that may inform a brand new choice,” he stated.

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