NASA is reviving its worm logo for the first time since 1992.
The red typographic logo, now mostly used for souvenirs and merchandise, will appear on the side of the Falcon 9 rocket for its scheduled launch in May.
The Falcon 9 rocket launch marks the first time that American astronauts will be sent to space on American rockets in almost a decade.
In 2011, the Atlantis space shuttle became the last American space system to ferry astronauts to and from space. Since then, NASA has used a Russian system, the Soyuz, to transport its astronauts.
The history of the worm
The American space agency has had a primary logo since its establishment in 1958. The circular logo – known as the meatball – depicts a red chevron wing cutting through a blue sphere with white stars, as a spaceship orbits the NASA wording.
But during the early days of NASA, it was “a difficult icon to reproduce and print”, the agency says. It also did little to clarify the work of the space agency. “Many people considered it a complicated metaphor in what was considered then, a modern aerospace era,” NASA says.
The worm logo was first introduced in 1975, as a “cleaner, sleeker” alternative to the first NASA insignia. It was designed by design studio Danne & Blackburn. The “simple, red unique type style of the word NASA” became known as the worm.
NASA says that it was able to “thrive with multiple graphic designs”. However, in 1992 the worm was retired and only used on clothing and souvenir items.
The worm’s revival
The worm’s appearance on the side of the Falcon 9 launch vehicle is its first since retirement. NASA hopes that it will “capture the excitement of a new, modern era of human spaceflight”.
The Falcon 9 rocket will take the Crew Dragon to the International Space station as part of the Demo-2 flight, which is currently scheduled for mid to late May.
The Crew Dragon spacecraft is the result of a collaboration between NASA and SpaceX, Elon Musk’s aerospace manufacturing company. It is the first launch from American soil to carry astronauts to space on a private vehicle.
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NASA adds that the launch also marks “the return of human spaceflight on American rockets from American soil”. It seems fitting to use the worm logo – a design that was honoured in 1984 by president Ronald Reagan for its “simplistic, yet innovative design”.
In the late 1970s and 80s, NASA achieved various milestones. In 1976, it took the first successful photos and soil samples from the surface of Mars, and in 1978 it started the first extended orbital exploration of Venus (which ended in 1992).
While the meatball will remain the primary symbol, NASA says: “There’s a good chance you’ll see the worm logo featured in other official ways on this mission and in the future.
“The agency is still assessing how and where it will be used, exactly.”
NASA’s design history
NASA has a rich design history, and was the subject of a guide to its visual identity has been published by New York-based publishers Standards Manual.
Last year, NASA revealed new spacesuits which were designed for woman – intended to be worn by the first woman and next man on the moon for the 2024 Artemis lunar mission.
Its creative team spoke to Design Week about NASA’s various logos, including the one for the Artemis mission, which features the Greek goddess of the moon as a way to highlight the milestone for female astronauts.