NASA Does the Worm To Honor the Return of U.S. Spaceflight

Jennifer Leman
Photo credit: Jim Bridenstine / NASA

From Popular Mechanics

  • The iconic design was crafted in 1974 by Richard Danne and Bruce Blackburn.
  • While beloved by designers, many in the agency hated the worm's clean, retro look.
  • It'll be stamped on the side of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket, to be used in the upcoming Demo-2 test flight.

NASA announced Thursday that it will resurrect its signature retro "worm" insignia for the upcoming Demo-2 test flight.

The famed design will be slapped onto SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket, which will carry the company's crew dragon capsule (and its astronaut occupants) to the International Space Station in May. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine admitted to Ars Technica that they were poised to post this update yesterday but feared the public would think it was an April Fool's day joke.

The agency has had only two logos in its roughly 60-year history: the beloved blue "meatball," which was designed by Jim Modarelli in 1959, and, of course, the worm.

Designed in 1974 by Richard Danne and Bruce Blackburn, the worm has become one of the most recognizable logos in the world. Despite being an absolute marvel—from a graphic design standpoint, at least—it was a tough sell for NASA's higher-ups.

James Fletcher, who was NASA's administrator at the time it was introduced, notoriously hated the design. Still, it was emblazoned on the spacesuits of Mae Jemison and Sally Ride and stamped on side of the Hubble Space Telescope and the Space Shuttle.

Photo credit: NASA

In 1992, it was retired by NASA administrator Dan Goldin. "By Friday morning the worm was out, and the meatball was back," Paul Holloway, who was director of NASA Langley at the time, notes on his official NASA webpage.

Since its "retirement," the worm has been reserved almost exclusively for NASA souvenirs but is widely used by a number of brands from Walmart to Coach, who have capitalized on its coveted retro feel. While brands must seek permission to use the logos, the agency does not get paid for their use.

NASA also has an official seal, which is reserved for "award presentations or formal events and activities which are ceremonial or traditional in nature," according to NASA's original Graphics Standards Manual from 1976.


"This warm shade of red is a very active color which brings a kinetic dimension to the letterforms." NASA wrote at the time about the worm's bold hue. "The color reflects the lively and future-oriented character of NASA."

NASA says it is also exploring other opportunities to include the famous insignia. Seems like a return to the lunar surface might be a good one?

"It seems the worm logo wasn’t really retired," the agency wrote in its statement Thursday. "It was just resting up for the next chapter of space exploration."

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