Astronomer Lucianne Walkowicz has resigned from a NASA advisory committee on account of the house company’s perceived mishandling of a request to rename the upcoming James Webb House Telescope. Webb was a NASA administrator in the course of the 1960s who aided in the persecution of LGBTQ staff.
It’s honest to say that Lucianne Walkowicz, an astronomer from the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, is significantly upset proper now—and for good purpose. On September 28, the identical day Walkowicz was struck by a automotive, they realized that NASA had determined, for causes not made clear, that there was inadequate purpose to rename the soon-to-be-launched James Webb House Telescope (JWST). In response, Walkowicz penned a caustic open letter to NASA asserting their resignation from the NASA Astrophysics Advisory Committee (APAC), a resignation that took impact October 12.
For NASA, this represents a critical loss. As a scientist, Walkowicz has contributed to our understanding of stellar exercise and the way it impacts the atmospheres of probably liveable exoplanets and the potential for human exercise on Mars. Walkowicz has even had an asteroid named after them.
That Walkowicz needs to maneuver on from NASA is wholly comprehensible. James Webb (1906-1992) enforced anti-gay insurance policies on the U.S. State Division and at NASA, the place he served as administrator from 1961 to 1968. Former NASA administrator Sean O’Keefe got here up with the thought of naming the telescope after Webb almost 20 years in the past. Earlier this 12 months, a petition requested that NASA rename the next-gen telescope given Webb’s involvement within the Lavender Scare—a time when queer authorities staff have been dismissed or compelled to resign.
NASA responded by launching an investigation into the matter. APAC had been asking NASA for updates, however the committee was instructed to attend for the outcomes of the investigation, which the house company described as being “thorough.” Abruptly and with minimal element, NASA introduced on September 28 that no additional actions could be taken, saying the investigators “discovered no proof presently that warrants altering the identify.”
NASA was very subdued concerning the matter, talking solely to reporters at NPR (as finest I can inform) and refraining from issuing a proper assertion. Writing of their open letter, Walkowicz described NASA’s determination to “quietly electronic mail just some chosen journalists” as being “flippant” and “pathetic.” Walkowicz writes that the tepid response speaks to bigger points on the house company:
It’s evident from this selection that any guarantees of transparency and thoroughness have been, actually, lies. It additionally appears clear that NASA would like a committee of Sure Males, a committee that co-signs issues that NASA had already deliberate to do, or maybe chides them about average course corrections that don’t truly problem NASA in any respect. It is usually clear that whereas Sean O’Keefe can simply recommend James Webb as a telescope namesake as a result of he thinks it’s a pleasant concept, queer individuals are required to justify their opinions by way of an investigation.
Walkowicz mentioned they weren’t optimistic concerning the identify change, particularly provided that present NASA administrator Invoice Nelson was opposed to same-sex marriage till 2013.
NASA’s response “sends a transparent message” concerning the house company’s place on the “rights of queer astronomers,” wrote Walkowicz, and “it additionally speaks clearly to me that NASA doesn’t deserve my time.” They’re vexed that “NASA has so little perception into its personal participation in systematic oppression,” citing the racial injustices portrayed within the movie Hidden Figures.
“In fact, I’m not the primary queer individual to be actively discouraged from NASA service,” wrote Walkowicz, “However I’m not the primary and received’t be the final pushed out of a NASA house, the place evidently straight individuals’s opinions are valued and brought extra significantly than queer individuals’s experiences.”
Wanting forward, Walkowicz mentioned they are going to chorus from referring to the house telescope by its official identify, they usually’re encouraging others to do the identical. In the meantime, the wrestle to rename the telescope after Harriet Tubman continues.
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