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NASA Says No Evidence James Webb Telescope Namesake Fired LGBTQ+ Staff

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(CNN) -- Despite numerous calls from astronomers to rename its powerful new telescope, NASA officialsstood by the naming of the James Webb Space Telescope before its launch.With the telescope nearly a year into its stint in space, the agency has released its chief historian's investigation into the namesake of the telescope.

James Webb, NASA's second-ever administrator, worked at the US State Department during the Lavender Scare, a period in which LGBTQ federal employees were often fired or forced to resign, and the decision to name the telescope for him courted criticism from researchers.There's no evidence that proves Webb was directly involved in those firings in the 1950s or in the 1963 firing of gay NASA employee Clifford Norton, according to Brian Odom, the NASA historian who completed the investigation.Webb's name caused controversyOfficials at NASA announced in 2002 that the telescope would be named for Webb, who oversaw the Apollo moon landing program in the 1960s and helped burnish the fledgling agency's reputation.

It was considered an unusual choice at the time, since Webb was an administrator and not a scientist.Months before the telescope was set to finally launch, though, several astronomers called on NASA to remove Webb's name from the telescope, which has since recorded several never-before-seen images of the universe.In a 2021 piece for Scientific American, a group of astronomers wrote that Webb's legacy "at best is complicated and at worst reflects complicity in homophobic discrimination in the federal government."Even scientists who work on the telescope have expressed their dissatisfaction with its name.

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