Countdown to Launch: the James Webb Space Telescope

Credit: NASA

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is scheduled to launch in October of 2021 and will embark on a month long, million-mile journey to orbit Earth’s second Lagrange point. Upon arrival, mirror segments will unfold to form a diameter of about 21 feet, compared to its predecessor, Hubble, which has a 7 foot-10-inch mirror. The JWST will use its mirrors to: gaze at the first lights of the universe, learn how galaxies form, study distant stars and the properties of their exoplanets, and potentially answer some of humanities biggest questions, like if we are alone in this vast universe.

The telescope is named after James Webb, a former civil servant of the Department of State who went on to become the NASA Administrator from 1961-1968. While at the Department of State, Webb was instrumental in the purge of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (or questioning) and others (LGBTQ+) from the scientific workforce, what is now known as the Lavender Scare. Red Canyon and industry recognize and celebrate the importance of diversity and inclusion, which makes us take pause on this topic.  Should someone who was instrumental in dividing our community be the eponym of the greatest telescope ever built?  Recommendations have been made to rename the JWST to the Harriet Tubman Space Telescope, symbolizing our gratitude towards those who have helped others in the pursuit of freedom and as “a reminder that the night sky is a shared heritage that belongs to all of humanity” (Prescod-Weinstein, et.al).

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