6 April 2022

Presidential Action Update on JWST Naming

Paula Szkody

Paula Szkody University of Washington, Seattle

As noted in the December 2021 AAS News Digest, a letter was sent to NASA Administrator Bill Nelson on 17 November 2021 requesting a formal and public report on the investigation concerning James Webb’s involvement in the Lavender Scare. The letter also expressed our misgivings about the general process of naming NASA missions via top-down decisions from NASA leadership instead of via a process that is inclusive of the communities and the public that those missions serve. Having received no answer, the Board comprised a second, stronger letter that was sent on 16 March 2022. We received an acknowledgement that this letter was delivered but have not yet received a formal reply. While these letters may or may not influence what happens to the current telescope name, we will continue to advocate for a more inclusive naming process.

At the NASA Astrophysics Advisory Committee on 30 March, Paul Hertz, NASA Director of Astrophysics, noted that NASA is taking the issue of renaming the telescope seriously. Brian Odom, NASA's Acting Chief Historian, will be researching James Webb’s potential involvement in LGBTQ+ persecution, as well as the internal process for how the telescope was named. NASA will share the findings with the astronomical community in the coming months.