Who Was James Webb, The NASA Telescope's Controversial Namesake?

By | September 19, 2022

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Space Administrator James E. Webb appears before the Senate Space Committee in its investigation of the spacecraft fire which killed three astronauts at Cape Kennedy. (Bettmann/Getty Images)

Since it was launched into space on Christmas 2021, the James Webb Space Telescope has been sending back incredible images of deep space. The scientific community and most of the general public have celebrated the telescope's achievements, but some have advocated for the telescope's name to be changed.

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James Webb presents the Group Achievement Award to Kennedy Space Center Director Dr. Kurt Debus in 1964. (N.A.S.A./Wikimedia Commons)

James Webb

James Webb was born in 1906, served in the Marines, studied law and education in college, and eventually held a series of senior positions within the State Department in the late '40s and '50s. During this time, he was outspoken about prioritizing scientific endeavors and technological advancements during the Cold War, and by 1961, he'd been appointed by President Kennedy as the second head administrator of N.A.S.A. in the agency's history. After he left N.A.S.A. in 1968, Webb served on several advisory boards, particularly for educational facilities like museums and universities, and even worked with the Smithsonian Institution. He died from heart disease on March 27, 1992 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.