The New York TimesThe New York Times

How naming the James Webb telescope turned into a fight over homophobia

By Michael Powell

19 Dec 2022 · 10 min read

Editor's Note

NASA named its deep-space telescope after its former head, James Webb, back in 2002. Now, the choice to canonize Webb in this way has become "contentious and bitter." The NYT has a nuanced report.

For half a decade now, influential young scientists have denounced NASA’s decision to name its deep-space telescope after James E. Webb, who led the space agency to the cusp of the 1969 moon landing. This man, they insisted, was a homophobe who oversaw a purge of gay employees.

Hakeem Oluseyi, who is now president of the National Society of Black Physicists, was sympathetic to these critics. Then he delved into archives, talked to historians and wrote a carefully sourced essay in Medium in 2021 that laid out his surprising findings.

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