The NASA logo of today is very similar to the agency’s original insignia, but the iconic “worm” logotype adorned spacecraft for more than 15 years a few decades ago. NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine announced on Twitter that “the worm is back” for NASA’s first private crewed spacecraft launch. Yes, that’s a Falcon 9 with a slick, retro NASA logo.
From its inception, NASA used a logo featuring a red chevron wing across a blue sphere surrounded by stars and an orbiting spacecraft. This is the same basic design NASA uses today, which is lovingly known as the “meatball” logo. In the 1970s, NASA was looking to jazz up its image. The meatball logo also happened to be expensive to reproduce and print with the technology of the day. Advertising firm Danne & Blackburn designed the “worm” logotype in 1975, and it became NASA’s official logo the following year.
NASA never officially called its 70s logo the “worm,” but it’s a fitting moniker with those curvy letters. The agency used this design during a pivotal time in its history as it refocused from the moon landings to low-Earth missions and long-range robotic exploration. All the early Space Shuttles sported the worm logo, as does the Hubble Space Telescope (launched in 1990). NASA stuck with that design until the early 90s when it moved back to the classic meatball.
The return of the worm logo is intended to mark an important new chapter in human spaceflight. The SpaceX Dragon II capsule will be the first private spacecraft to carry astronauts to the ISS, and the first crewed launch from US soil since the Space Shuttle retired. The Falcon 9 that carries that Dragon capsule into space now has the classic worm logo emblazoned on its side.
NASA has been relying on Russian Soyuz missions for crew transport for almost a decade, but that should come to an end in the next few months. Both SpaceX and Boeing have been developing spacecraft for this purpose, but it looks like SpaceX will beat Boeing to the punch. Elon Musk’s spaceflight firm came back quickly from a testing mishap last year that resulted in the destruction of a Dragon capsule. Meanwhile, Boeing failed its uncrewed demo mission late last year due to software bugs. It’s still evaluating how to move forward, but NASA hopes to launch its first crewed mission with SpaceX next month.
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