NASA’s Contest to Design the Last Shuttle Patch

The space shuttle program is on its way out, but the core of people who built and maintained it will live on.

To honor them, NASA gave its employees the chance to design the patch that will commemorate the shuttle program, which is slated to end in September, after STS-133 flies.

From the designs of 85 current and former employees, the Shuttle Program Office has selected 15 finalists. The prospective patches, presented here, will be voted on internally by NASA employees and judged by a small panel.

The program patch will help mark the end of the shuttle era. Begun rather enthusiastically in the late 1970s, the program almost didn’t have mission patches, said Robert Pearlman, the space history and memorabilia enthusiast who brought the internal contest to the public eye.

“In 1976, the Space Shuttle program designed a patch, called the Space Shuttle Program logo, which was a single triangle, blue and white. It’s very iconic,” Pearlman said. “And the original idea was that since the space shuttle as of 1976 was going to fly so many times and so often — every couple weeks — you wouldn’t want or need crew mission patches any longer. The idea was we’d do away with mission patches.”

But astronauts and other mission members dissented. By then, the patches had become a popular tradition within NASA, even though they’d only been used for a little more than a decade. In the wake of NASA’s 1965 decision not to allow astronauts to name their own vehicles, one astronaut decided that his Gemini V mission needed a patch.

“Gordon Cooper, looking for a way to keep a personal touch to the mission, borrowed something from the military, and created and fought for a patch,” Pearlman said.
His design, prominently featuring a covered wagon, became the first of hundreds of NASA patches.

So, after some wrangling, NASA decided the shuttle missions could have their own patches after all. The first patch, for STS-1, was designed by Robert McCall, a well-known space artist, Pearlman said.

Subsequent works have come together in a variety of ways. Some have been drawn by the astronauts themselves, others by hangers-on or friends. Together, they form an odd pictographic record of a program that has been at the center of the world’s premiere space agency for more than 30 years. One of the 15 entries you see here will be the final installment in the series.

In the patch design at the top of this post, the sunrise/sunset represents the start and finish of the shuttle program, and the stars honor the astronauts who died on Challenger and Columbia. The artist wrote, “I picked the most dramatic angle of the shuttle I could find to highlight the magnificence of the most complicated space vehicle in the world.”

Captions are summaries of the artists’ explanations. For full captions, go to CollectSpace.com.

Source: Wired Science

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