Faraway Into the Galaxy, A Telescope Represents Inequality


photo courtesy of google images

By Hannah Smith, Technology Editor

Originally published October 18, 2021.


There is not a lot that stands in the way of a telescope being launched into space. NASA has planned for the James Webb Space Telescope to be launched on December 18, 2021. It is not only monumental, historic, and advanced in its purpose to search for the universe’s first galaxies and stars, but it might be taking the hurt that lies in history with it too.


The name of objects and pieces of technology that live through decades has become remembered by the media, taught in schools, and spoken about in conversations. Despite the telescope being named after the historical leader of NASA and a senior State Department official, James Webb, it is also a name that is also attached to an opinion of hatred to certain people.


During the late 1940s to the early 1950s, federal employees were dismissed because they identified as gay and lesbian. This was the time period that Webb served as undersecretary of state and was referred to as a time period called the “Lavender Scare”, when thousands of federal employees were dismissed based off of their sexuality.


This 10 million dollar telescope has been the center of attention to current NASA employees as a petition. This has been create


d for the renaming of the telescope before its launch because of Webbs’ inappropriate decisions and absence of respect and equality towards the people at the time. NASA’s decision to keep the name of the telescope was the final straw for many current employees of the government agency. In the open letter to the agency, statements like “[this] sends a clear message of NASA’s position on the rights of queer astronomers,” Lucianne Walkowicz said who resigned following the announcement of keeping its name.


The Webb telescope is planned to scan the universe for life-hosting planets and be the successor of the current space telescope, the Hubble, that has been in orbit since 1990. This is a prime example of how historical inequalities are still being excused because of the person’s “success”, at the cost of a group of people being hurt.


October is LGBTQ+ history month, which recognizes the achievements of the people in this community and encourages conversation and celebration of the leaders who drove equality forward in the past. In addition, it is not a time to sit silently in the hands of authority who control how such monumental technology will be presented for decades to come.