The Evolution and History of the NASA Logo5 min read

NASA or The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is one of the executive branch agencies of the US government that is responsible for the matters of the space program and research. As of 2015, NASA made it to the top of the list of 8 best government agencies of the United States. NASA still continues to be popular with people as 68% of Americans have a positive attitude towards it. Not only NASA’s scientific achievements granted it the spotlight in history, but also its branding, and in particular – the logo. Logos carry great importance, according to Sagi Haviv, the partner of the CGH company – “A good logo, a good trademark, gains meaning and power over time”.

How It All Started

The history of NASA’s logo goes back to 1957 when this agency was known under the title NACA or National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics. The very same year the reorganization of the agency was followed by a logo change. For this occasion, the agency opened up a contest where everyone could submit their ideas. The final winner was named James Modarelli and back in 1959, he was a designer at the laboratory of the NASA Glenn Research Center. The design he created was quite typical for those days, however, even though it represented all agency’s features it was not enough to show plans and aspirations for the future. So the logo had to be simplified.

During the re-design process, the full name of the agency was shortened to just “NASA”. The team also decided to keep the stars and red rocket trace, making the whole logo easier to percept and memorize. This is how the very famous ‘meatball’ logo was created.

The ‘Meatball’

Being the original creator of the NASA logo, James Modarelli was also the one, responsible for the following redesign of it. As we mentioned previously, the whole point of this procedure was to simplify the image and make it more representative in terms of NASA’s aspirations for the future. James’s work was approved by the government and the agency’s logo changed its appearance to something called ‘insignia’ in 1959. However, pretty soon it got another name and began being called ‘meatball’. Even though the initial purpose of this logo was to use it for the less formal occasions, it soon became the most recognizable of NASA’s public representation and can now be seen on various merch such as t-shirts, notebooks, backpacks, and other similar things. “NASA’s “meatball” was and still is one of the most iconic designs of all time,” – says Kayla Barron, the active astronaut of NASA. It is not just the agency’s staff who appreciate this design, but also ordinary people. According to Ben Grant, one of the writers for Adsy, – ‘“Meatball” is something you cannot mistake for any other logo. It is just iconic and will always remain popular’.

The logo initially had a rich interpretation: the blue ball resembled the planet Earth, stars represent the cosmos, the red line was referring to the rocket trace, and the white circle is responsible for spaceship’s trajectory representation.

The ‘Worm’

1974 was the year of major changes in NASA’s public image. The biggest alterations referred to the agency’s logo that completely changed its appearance. There were no longer blue skies or the red rocket trace – all that was left was the agency’s name. This time people responsible for changes were hired from the outside of the team and were called Richard Danne and Bruce Blackburn. Their efforts were presented to the public in 1975 and looked like a rather futuristic-looking name of the organization. The new logo looked completely stripped down in comparison to its previous version and met a lot of resistance not only from the agency’s administration but ordinary people as well. Eventually, the ‘worm’ lasted for only 17 years and in 1992 NASA’s representatives announced the return of the ‘meatball’. Probably, the main reason for the rejection was the fact that it was rather ‘too modern’ for those times. Many people believe, that it would be gladly taken by the public if it was presented in our times. More than just that, this exact logo is currently being used by some designers due to its simplicity and futuristic looks.

Despite the critics, the ‘worm’ had plenty of benefits:

  • It was easily visible and recognizable;
  • It looked stylish;
  • It was easy to print on any surface;
  • It had a manual on how to use it on different surfaces – from spaceships to t-shirts.

Back to Basics

Due to such a harsh reaction towards the ‘worm’ the decision was made to return to the previous version of the logo, the famous ‘meatball’. This way in 1992 it was officially announced that it is coming back as a sign of respect towards NASA’s ‘glory days’. It was NASA’s chief Daniel S. Goldin, who stood behind such a decision, and, it must be said, that his idea was not a wrong one. The ‘meatball’ presented back in 1959 is still relevant and represents everything NASA is and stands for. 

What was the real reason for the comeback though? Probably the attempt to rise the NASA’s workers’ spirit, use the feeling of nostalgia, and bring back agency’s somewhat lost public popularity. In some ways, it worked, however, many people believe, that by such move NASA got stuck in the past and changes need to be done, even if that is just a visual representation of the agency.

Final Thoughts

Logo’s importance is hard to underestimate, especially when it comes to such a tremendous company as NASA that is known well beyond the US borders. During the long history of NASA’s logo changes, they nevertheless managed to create an iconic image that is still being used all over the globe. You can be either a ‘meatball’ or a ‘worm’ fan, or neither one of those, but it is hard to underestimate the influence of both of these logos on NASA’s representation in the media and the world.

About the author

Marie is a Marketing Communication Manager at bestforacar. She is an enthusiastic blogger interested in writing about technology, social media, work, travel, lifestyle, and current affairs.

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Marie is a Marketing Communication Manager at bestforacar. She is an enthusiastic blogger interested in writing about technology, social media, work, travel, lifestyle, and current affairs.

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