NASA logo evolution: meatball vs worm

After a NASA Lewis Research Center illustrator’s design was chosen for the new agency’s official seal, the head of Lewis’ Research Reports Division, James Modarelli, was asked by the executive secretary of NACA to design a logo that could be used for less formal purposes.

NASA logo
The illustrator’s design before simplification.

Mr Modarelli simplified the seal, leaving only the white stars and orbital path on a round field of blue with a red airfoil. Then he added white N-A-S-A lettering.

NASA logo meatball
Nasa’s meatball

In the “meatball” design, the sphere represents a planet, the stars represent space, the red chevron is a wing representing aeronautics (the latest design in hypersonic wings at the time the logo was developed), and then there is an orbiting spacecraft going around the wing.

Known officially as the insignia, NASA’s round logo was not called the “meatball” until 1975. That’s when NASA decided a more modern logo was in order.

NASA uniform logos
NASA / Time Life Pictures / Getty Images

Richard Danne and Bruce Blackburn were hired to replace the complex meatball with a stripped-down, modernist interpretation where even the cross stroke of the A’s were removed. During the first design presentation, the proposed system was met with some resistance.

NASA worm logo
NASA worm logo

Danne remembers NASA’s administrator, Dr James Fletcher, and deputy administrator, Dr George Low, having the following exchange:

Fletcher: “I’m simply not comfortable with those letters, something is missing.”
Low: “Well, yes, the cross stroke is gone from the letter A.”
Fletcher: “Yes, and that bothers me.”
Low: “Why?”
Fletcher: (long pause) “I just don’t feel we are getting our money’s worth!”

Still, the new program was approved and implemented.

NASA worm logo
The NASA worm (image via Galaxy Wire)

17 years later, despite its winning the prestigious “Award of Design Excellence” by The Presidential Design Awards, NASA scrapped the Danne and Blackburn design and re-instated the “meatball.”

NASA worm logo
The worm on Star Trek (image via Ex Astris Scientia)

Danne thinks this was at least partly due to how NASA chose to introduce the new logo to its various internal agencies in the first place. He says the redesign was kept secret until letters were sent to every center director… on their new stationary. Those loyal to the old design were offended, and a rivalry between the “meatball” and the “worm” began.

NASA meatball logo
NASA meatball (image via NASA)

Info excerpted from:
NASA “Meatball” Logo
Who Made Those NASA Logos? (via Chris Backert)
NASA insignia, on Wikipedia

Elsewhere, the NASA graphics standards manual.

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