1970s NASA ‘worm’ logo makes a comeback

nasa worm logotype

The famous NASA ‘worm’ logotype will return to space this year after being retired from official use in 1992 in favour of a more vintage brand.

The resurrected logo will adorn SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket when two NASA astronauts head to the International Space Station in May 2020.

The worm was designed by Bruce Blackburn to introduce a cleaner touch of modernity.

In 1975, it officially replaced the circular blue, white and red insignia ‘meatball’ design by James Modarelli which had been in use since 1959.

After 17 years in service, the then NASA administrator Daniel S Goldin, scrapped the worm logotype and returned to the 1959 insignia to emphasise the heritage of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

According to Goldin, the worm was disliked by the agency’s employees and complaints had been received about the logo’s “incompetence and lack of projection.”

The modernisation of NASA in the 70s was part of the US Federal Design Improvement Program – an initiative instigated by the NEA (National Endowment for the Arts) at the behest of President Richard Nixon.

Under this scheme, more than 45 federal agencies, including The Department of Agriculture and The National Zoo, had their graphics critiqued and redesigned: New York design studio Danne & Blackburn was tasked with the job of modernising the NASA logo.

Reintroduction of the NASA worm

Five years ago, graphic designers, Jesse Reed and Hamish Smyth, republished an official 1976 guidelines prescribing how the logo may be used.

Now in fifth print, the reissued ‘National Aeronautics and Space Administration Graphics Standards Manual,’ has already sold 30,000 copies.

“We had said among ourselves, ‘How cool would it be if it actually came back one day?’” recalled Smyth.

“It was kind of the fantasy.

“We never seriously thought it would happen.”

In 2017, reproduction of the worm logotype on T-shirts, souvenirs and merchandise was officially endorsed and permitted to be sold worldwide.

“We’ve just seen it come to rise in popular culture, in fashion in particular,” said Reed.

US space shuttles were retired in 2011 making astronauts reliant on Russian Soyuz rockets to blast them into orbit.

As SpaceX moved closer the first launch of its Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon capsule with astronauts aboard, Bridenstine concluded that:

“It would be a fitting tribute to that moment to bring back the worm as an inspiration to the nation.”

The announcement of the worm revival was initially scheduled to go out April 1, mindful that it may have been mistaken for an April Fools joke, it was pushed back a day.

“What they were trying to represent in the ’70s was cutting-edge technology,” explained Smyth.

“They got it so right that it still looks like cutting-edge technology even though it’s close to 40 years later.”

Coincidentally, April 2 is the birthday of Richard Danne, the designer who directed the 1970s graphics reinvention.