The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s first logo, seen above, was designed by NASA employee James Modarelli in 1959 and was nicknamed the “meatball.” The elements that Modarelli used in the symbol reflect NASA’s expanded mission after it transformed from the earlier National Advisory Committee or Aeronautics (NACA), which dealt primarily with aviation. The round blue ball represents a planet, and the stars represent space, while the elliptical pathway in the center represents space travel by depicting an orbit. Hearkening back to NACA’s original mission, the big red swoosh represents aeronautics. But where did the shape come from?
Modarelli found inspiration for the swoosh in an experimental wooden wing that NASA engineers developed in 1958 to investigate supersonic flight. Built for testing in a wind tunnel, the wing’s principal design elements—its sharp 75-degree sweep, cambered surfaces, and upturned nose—are all evident in Modarelli’s stylized design found in the NASA logo.
In 1975, NASA decided that they needed a more modern logo to represent the agency, so the meatball was dropped favor of what became known as the “worm.” This logo lasted until 1992, when the classic meatball returned as the agency’s primary symbol. For formal situations, NASA uses a seal which incorporates an updated version of the meatball.