Space exploration and research is very close to me, and has been a part of my life for as long as I can recall. From seeing the first images of Mars captured by the Pathfinder mission two decades ago, to watching SpaceX launch resupply modules to the ISS today, humanity's quest to understand and explore our universe never ceases to inspire me.
As organizations grow and change they revisit their branding to suit new aesthetics. My goal for this project was to refine the iconic NASA insignia into something more fitting for the next century of space exploration without losing touch of its distinctive roots.
I started with the letters of NASA. The many NASA rebranding projects I've seen tend to make the type generic, typically using a sans-serif typeface. To avoid this, I studied the type used in the Worm, a favorite logo amongst designers from NASA's past, and the Meatball, the current, more emblematic logo with the blue circle that is strongly associated with the organization.
The Worm derives its retro-futuristic look from the consistent line thickness and rounded corners, and especially the continuous line of each letter. Note that the A's lack the crossbar, abstracting them slightly while helping the eye flow through the letters.
The Meatball's type is heavier: blocky shapes mixed with thin lines. The serifs make the logo feel a little dated when compared to most contemporary tech companies, but also add a unique quality that I wanted to maintain in my refinement.
For the evolution of the logo, I combined the open, minimal characteristics of the Worm with the weighted, serifed letters from the original Meatball. At a glance it reads similarly to the Meatball text, but with futuristic edge that speaks to the purpose of the agency. The letters are spaced farther apart too, giving more negative space to the logo. Furthermore, the type works alone or incorporated into the simplified Meatball (pictured later), giving it more versatility than the existing lettering.
I sampled blues from the most recent Blue Marble photo, generated by NASA in 2015, to reinforce the connection between the circle and the Earth. The logo ought to feel as rich and saturated our planet, since it represents human endeavors. The red began as the original NASA red, but I desaturated it slightly and made the hue more blue reduce visual vibration between the orb and wing.
Finally, you can see the evolution from the two iconic NASA insignias to the design I arrived at, including a couple of iterations I played with along the way.
I want to restate that I view this as a refinement of what has come before, not a redesign. I intentionally kept the recognizable features that seem to draw people to NASA's branding and imagery, so the result would be simultaneously futuristic and nostalgic.
This first variation is for missions on Earth, or in near-Earth-orbit. The green is sampled from the Blue Marble photo, and mixes with the white type to allude to the land, water, and clouds of our home planet. The final image, representing a future Expedition 56 of the International Space Station, shows how mission icons and labels could be incorporated into the NASA insignia.
Similar to the Earth logo, but this time using grays sampled from photos of the Moon. The final image shows a logo for the hypothetical second version of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, that could appear on the satellite or delivery vessel.
Even missions to planets outside our neighborhood, such as those proposed for the Orion module and SLS rockets, can have their own NASA logo. Here the reds and browns of Mars are brought into the orb and wing.
NASA Deep Space
Finally, I wanted to include a logo for missions whose purpose lies outside the Solar system. This variant of the logo combines a midnight blue with purple, an unnatural color that is intentionally alien when compared to the blues, grays, and browns of our planets. This is my favorite because the wing feels like a nebula stretching across the dark skies of distant worlds I hope humanity will one day reach. The James Webb Space Telescope, whose emblem is pictured at the end, is our the next step towards that future.