Wednesday, August 3, 2011

NASA's insignias

"Who Made Those NASA Logos?"


Hilary Greenbaum

August 3rd, 2011

The New York Times

The return of the space shuttle Atlantis to the Earth’s atmosphere two weeks ago marked the close of NASA’s 30-year space shuttle program. Retirement of this popular and very visible shuttle program further strains the already diminished agency. “Space experts say the best and brightest often head for the doors when rocket lines get marked for extinction, dampening morale and creating hidden threats,” according to The Times. This is not the first time in NASA’s history when the agency faced publicity troubles. Back in 1974, after the success of the Mercury and Apollo programs, but before the initiation of the Shuttle Program, NASA was convinced by the National Endowment for the Arts to participate in its “Federal Graphics Improvement Program,” and do what many companies these days do to revive their image: undergo a redesign.

Up until that point, NASA had been primarily using an insignia adapted by James Modarelli, the head of NASA’s Lewis Research Center Reports Division. This logo, created in 1959 and affectionately dubbed “The Meatball,” relied heavily on multiple visual metaphors. According to NASA’s Web site, “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.” Although charming in its quirkiness, the meatball proved difficult to reproduce given the printing technology available at the time and the variety of applications it would need to adorn.

Enter Richard Danne and Bruce Blackburn. They were hired to create, in Danne’s words, “a more useful new Logotype.” In a recently completed, yet to be published memoir, Danne describes the streamlined new design as “clean, progressive, could be read from a mile away, and was easy to use in all mediums.” Danne and Blackburn replaced 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. 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. Seventeen 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.” 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 set out to every center director … on their new stationery. Those loyal to the old design were offended, and a rivalry between “The Meatball” and the new design (unaffectionately dubbed “The Worm”) began.

Now that NASA finds itself in another downturn, I asked Danne if he thought NASA would commission another redesign. He didn’t think that the budget would allow it, but “if they were to change image directions … they already have one very fine design program just waiting to be launched again.”

NASA Mission Patches

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