the worm logo designer receives NASA’s exceptional Medal
On November 6th, 2023, NASA recognized designer Richard Danne by presenting him with the Exceptional Public Achievement Medal for creating the NASA worm logotype. It is the continuous wide red line that replaced the space agency’s logo for several decades starting in the 1970s. After that, NASA brought back its official insignia known as the meatball, the famous outer-space logo with constellations and a blue background. The space agency has also revived the use of the worm for limited use to complement its meatball sibling.
The medal was presented to Danne after a panel discussion at NASA Headquarters in Washington, discussing the logotype and its cultural influence. NASA says that the award is given to non-government employees for specific achievements or substantial improvement in contribution to the mission of NASA. ‘This event, a culmination of a 50-year trek, is extremely rewarding. Creating the worm for NASA has been a singular achievement in my own career and in the history of design. It has not always been easy but it was a glorious experience, and I feel fortunate to be part of the NASA family and to have helped the agency achieve its missions and goals,’ says Danne.
the traditional NASA blue circular logo | images by NASA
NASA’s logo evolution from meatball to worm
NASA’s official insignia, nicknamed the meatball, arrived during the space agency’s second year after it was established. It was designed by employee James Modarelli in 1959 who integrated references to different aspects of the mission of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration with its outer-space look. The round blue mirror represents a planet, the stars represent space, the V-shaped wing indicates aeronautics, and the circular orbit around NASA represents space travel.
For 16 years, the space insignia marked the brand of NASA until 1975 when the space agency decided to create a more modern logo as part of the Federal Design Improvement Program (NASA was strategically chosen to implement the first new brand identity). The space agency tapped the New York firm Danne & Blackburn, which handed over the worm design alongside a detailed design manual that all the centers of the space agency could use and refer to. For 17 years, the worm logo was the official insignia of NASA, but in 1992, it was retired, bringing back the meatball design by James Modarelli.
NASA used the worm logo from 1975 until 1992
The worm is back to complement the meatball
It may have taken NASA almost 30 years, but the space agency resurrected the use of the worm logo on souvenir merchandise in 2017, reintroducing the modern face of NASA to the new generation. Then in May 2020, NASA even printed the worm logo on the space rocket of NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission prior to its launch and ‘to mark the return of human spaceflight on American rockets from American soil,’ NASA says. In November 2022, NASA also used the worm logo on its first rocket around the Moon in more than 50 years as part of its Artemis program.
Slowly, the worm logo resurfaced again from the signage and spacecraft to the spacesuits of the agency. Most recently and as seen during the award presentation to Richard Danne, NASA placed a giant worm logo sculpture directly outside its Earth Information Center at its headquarters when it debuted in June 2023. It was during that event that designer Richard Danne saw the sculpture version of his logo design for the first time. In November 2023, the designer came back again to the Mary W. Jackson NASA Headquarters building in Washington, not to see his logo sculpture again, but to be recognized for his and his firm’s design work that resulted in a recognizable icon.
Richard Danne awarded the Exceptional Public Achievement Medal for his NASA worm logotype on November 6th, 2023 at the Mary W. Jackson NASA Headquarters building in Washington | photo by Keegan Barber
NASA Public Affairs Specialist Megan Cruz delivers remarks during a dedication event for Richard Danne | photo by Keegan Barber
NASA Worm Logo sign unveiled at the opening of NASA’s Earth Information Center on June 21st, 2023 | photo by Joel Kowsky