James Webb led NASA during the 1960s, when it was gearing up to land people on the moon.
After a fire killed three astronauts in 1967, he established the tradition that NASA would own up to its mistakes with transparent investigations; he was also a champion of space science in addition to human spaceflight.
In 2002, Sean O’Keefe, then the NASA administrator, announced that the next telescope would be named for Mr. Webb. Some astronomers were disappointed that it would not be named for an astronomer.
Other scientists have objected on other grounds, suggesting that Mr. Webb bore some responsibility for the purging of gay men and women who worked at the State Department during a period of the Truman administration known as the Lavender Scare. At the time, Mr. Webb was the under secretary of state.
NASA launched an investigation. Subsequently, Bill Nelson, the current administrator and former Florida senator, announced that he would not change the name. But some scientists have sustained their criticism of the telescope’s name, and one resigned from NASA advisory boards in protest.