NASA Just Launch The Accursed James Webb Space Telescope Already.
The name of a thing does not matter as much as what it will do.
We launch space telescopes to gather data about the heavens not to serve as job programs or to honor members of the LGBT community. In an age of light pollution even from satellites like Space X ‘s Starlink space telescopes will be the next step. The spectrum that matters for the spectra that they will record. The name of the object is an irrelevancy the fact that it has been delayed, and cost overran again, and again, and again IS the problem. JWST has become the Super Conducting Super Collider of astronomy and astrophysics. Whatever needs to be done to get it ready to launch needs to get done and NASA needs to get it launched.
It is very likely that like just about everyone in his time James Webb as homophobic. It is also very likely that if there was an effort to purge gay people from NASA at that time, he would not have been an ally, almost no one would’ve been. His failure would have been failing to be extraordinary on that issue. I get why such action or at least inaction on his part should be condemned however without him there might not be a NASA at all right now. So, let’s name a telescope after him and also accept that people of the past will often fail to meet our standards.
More importantly is what JWST will do.
Yes it will replace Hubble, taking data at a better angular resolution, better detail, better sensitivity, in the infrared part of the spectrum. JWST will also do something more important. It will serve as a proving ground for the very idea of putting very very large telescopes into orbit at the lagrange points. Ground based astronomy is at a cross roads. The very large telescopes “TMT” class telescopes are going to be at the limit of what it may be possible to build on Earth.
The Thirty Meter Telescope TMT is running into political opposition from a faction of Native Hawaiians due to issues of corruption and misuse of communally owned lands all through Hawaii. Unlike American Indians who had governments who made treaties with the United States establishing their law on plots of land, the Hawaiian kingdom was overthrown with some help from the US in favor of a republic. Then the Hawaiian republic was annexed into the union at the request of said republic. Thus, the sovereign representative of the interest of that community was rendered extinct. There are real grievances there but TMT due to its location high on Mauna Kea has become a symbol to certain traditionalist practitioners of Native Hawaiian culture.
Then there is the presence of light pollution due to the increased number of satellites due to Space X Star Link. This is an issue that will only get worse as it becomes easier to put small satellites into orbit.
TMT cannot simply be put in space. It would be a total redesign. A telescope designed with the idea it will always be on Earth where it can be serviced at all times is one thing. As JWST shows creating a device that will function flawlessly and which cannot be fixed at all… ever… is not simple.
However, JWST can light the way to what the telescope after TMT can be. The real value of JWST is as a test bed for the techniques of building larger telescopes which can be placed into orbit. The real value will be that it will show us how to do that, right or wrong.
So just launch it already. As for the name on the accursed thing. If it is destined to perhaps blow up on the launch pad anyway it might as well have been named after a probable homophobe.
If you enjoyed this article, please check out my longstanding blog at science 2.0. There I will post breaking news that I have to report first. For my views and opinions on science and cultural issues subscribe here. The price is right, free, at least for now.