It’s time for some ADD+ ition…

Can you identify what adding these elements together help create the logo of?

nasa colour logo 1961

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NASA seal, black and white (1959) / NASA seal, colour (1961)
– designed by James Modarelli

NASA’s first logo was created by employee: James J. Modarelli. Prepared to enter the company’s design competition, Modarelli opted to use the twisted and cambered, arrow-wing concept (he had come across earlier in the year) as an element within the proposed design to represent NASA’s aeronautics program. Harry J. DeVoto (head of the Ames Research Center Graphics and Exhibits Branch), played a key role in the development of Modarelli proposed logo. DeVoto’s seal design contained elements such as a blue field with star shapes, a globe representing the Earth and a nascent body orbiting the earth leaving a trail. Devoto’s design also consisted of an outer circle containing the words “NATIONAL AERONAUTICS AND SPACE ADMINISTRATION”. All said items were seen In Modarelli’s offering. Modarelli adapted DeVoto’s work, adding the supersonic wing and modifying things further before submission.

The design proposed by Modarelli was eventually chosen as that the company wished to go ahead with. It went through numerous checks (and presidential approval), one in particular highlighting that the red wing element was rendered upside-down. Once all the final issues were rectified, NASA launched the final version of the seal.

James Modarelli was then called upon once again by NASA’s fist administrator, Dr. T. Keith Glennan to create a much more simplified version of the current seal for informal uses, this was the birth of illustrious insignia we all know today. Choosing the main elements from the current seal, Modarelli opted to strip things back, going for a much simpler insignia offering whilst being more focused on space and travel.

The following elements are said to represent the respective aspects:

  • The circle = the planets
  • The stars = space
  • The advanced supersonic wing = aeronautics
  • The nascent body = an orbiting spacecraft

Modarelli went on to add the letters “N-A-S-A”.

The design can also be seen as paying homage to the American flag,  did to the colour selection of elements, along with the stars.

nasa meatball insignia

NASA “meatball” insignia, (1959–1975, 1992–present) – designed by James Modarelli

In 1974 NASA called for another redesign of the logo, wishing for it to reflect the current time period, hence a more contemporary look. The “meatball” (dubbed so in 1975 by Frank “Red” Rowsome, head of technical publications at NASA Headquarters) survived for 16 years before the introduction of the “worm”. The Federal Graphics Improvement Program (active from 1972 to 1981) ushered in the change of graphics for a number of government agencies.

NASA’s new logotype was created by the design firm: Danne & Blackburn. Richard Danne and Bruce Blackburn, a design duo, were looked upon favourably by the agency and, armed with a vision of the future, put forth a controversial logotype as their suggested redesign. The board liked the idea of where the logo would take the agency, however were apprehensive as to how others would receive it. Apart from providing a more contemporary look, the new NASA logo fixed printing issues encountered by the previous (before the age of high-quality digital printers). However, the new logo had divided opinions: NASA’s oldest employees preferred the “meatball” and were rather infuriated by the change, whilst the younger employees welcomed the new, contemporary version.

nasa worm logo

NASA “worm” logotype (1975–1992, made secondary logo as of 2020) – designed by Danne & Blackburn

The new “worm” logotype simplified the design incorporating the letters of the NASA acronym, a feeling of unity and precision was achieved via the single width of the letters. Fluidity and continuity of the design can be found in the curves of the letters. It has also been mentioned that the missing cross-strokes in both “A’s” aim to convey a feeling of vertical thrust.

    With that being said it was discarded after 17 years of use, which in turn resulted in the reemergence of the “meatball”. 1992 signified the the return to past traditions and the “magic” of exploration.

    The “meatball” was truly ahead of its time, so it was a no-brainer for its return.

    Opinions on the “meatball” vs the “worm” continue to divide NASA lovers to this day. Some claiming the logotype is too simple and others disagreeing with the return to the old logo.

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    “James J. Modarelli, head of the Research Reports Division at the NASA Lewis Research Center (now the NASA Glenn Research Center), was the chief designer of the NASA seal and meatball insignia.”

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