NASA Mission Patches: Discover a Unique Creative Process

NASA Mission Patches are designed by astronauts and visionary artists as symbols of belonging and pride. Here are some of the best mission patches for your inspiration, along with an exploration of the unique creative process behind them.

Our Favourite NASA Mission Patches

A NASA Mission Patch is one the most intriguing illustrations we can think of. The small embroideries must honor the uniqueness of the space flight, and they are designed by astronauts in collaboration with artist at NASA Graphics Division. They are also powerful symbols of courage, pride and belonging. 

Since the beginning of 1970s, space mission patches became a tradition at NASA. The visionary illustrations we have seen since then have been inspiring to us, and here we gathered some of our favorites for your inspiration.

1965: the Tradition of Space Patches Begins

According to the accounts of NASA Graphics Division, the first Space Mission Patch was designed by Gemini 5 crewmates Gordon Cooper and Charles Conrad. The Gemini mission patch was a first for the space agency, no crewed mission had one before. Although it was difficult, Cooper, a stubborn man, insisted on having a patch until his proposal got approved.

Cooper and Conrad were the first to carry atronaut-deisgned patches into space. Eventually, space mission emblems became standard, and are now universal symbols of space exploration. On top of having such high symbolic value, mission patches are also interesting design-wise, as they have to follow very strict rules in terms of typography, positioning and imagery.
nasa mission patches cooper

Pride and Belonging: Space Mission Patches

Today patches are still a very important element of each mission. Emotionally, the small illustrations express the uniqueness of the flight, plus a sense of pride and accomplishment in belonging to a project important for the whole humankind.

NASA patches are attached to spacesuits astronauts wear during their missions. But the little illustrations are not exclusive to the crew that will perform the actual flight. Everyone involved in the mission wears a uniform with the embroidery on it, including engineers, technicians, and scientists – everyone contributing to the success of the mission. Patches then come to symbolise the collective effort behind each mission. 

The highly symbolic embroideries are used by crews all over the world, not only by the American Agency. All of them have a certain visionary quality, they tell epic stories in small, 4-inches illustrations. ESA, Роскосмос, CMSA and even SpaceX crews have a special design for each and every one of their missions. 

However, something sets NASA patches apart. Something in NASA patches is different and more attractive. We could list many reasons why this is true, but we believe it is mostly because they follow strict rules for their design process, which were specified in the legendary 1976 NASA Graphic Standard Manual.

NASA Graphic Standards Manual

If you mention Nasa to a graphic designer, their first thought will go to the Nasa Graphic Standards Manual (have a look, it’s free to download here). This is a seminal book for designers and anyone appreciative of beautiful things.

The famous manual was published in 1976 by the graphic design duo Richard Danne and Bruce Blackburn, who will be remembered as the inventors of the worm, Nasa most futuristic (and according to most, better designed) logo (if you are curious about more histories of famous logo designs, have a look at our look on Stranger Things and MTV logos) .

The logo earned its name thanks to the movement and the metallic feel of the lettering, plus the missing bar on both As. The way it looks suggests modernity, innovation, and a futuristic feel we really like.

nasa graphic standard manual logo design

But the manual is not only about the logo. Published in January 1976, the document responded to a call of the National Endowment for the Arts’ Federal Graphics Improvement Program to revamp the identity of the agency. These are the years just after the moon landing, nothing much was going on, and NASA needed a new image. 

That’s how the two designers created a document devoted to coordinating the identity of a huge organisation, something that was never seen before in the field of branding and graphic design. The instructions create a consistent approach to everything NASA. There are details about just everything, from logo placement in space shuttles to typography size for invoices.

indiegroundblog nasa manual 02
indiegroundblog nasa manual 03
indiegroundblog nasa manual 04
nasa uniforms mission patches

It is all there: trucks, space suits, documents, uniforms, and of course space mission patches. Everything in the manual is planned and executed with such skill and sensitivity, it’s difficult not to fall in love with it.

The Design Process behind a Mission Patch

Designing a mission patch is no easy task, the small illustration has to fit the whole narrative of the mission, and the epic adventure of the astronauts has to be represented in a 4-inch embroidery.

On page 18, the NASA Graphic Standards Manual reads as follows: “Part of the tradition of NASA revolves around the pride taken in the accomplishment of various individual projects or missions. One mode for expression of this pride has been the mission patch. Because of the relatively short duration of any specific mission and because of the unique personality of each of the patches, they should occupy their own visual space, sepa­rated from official NASA identification. In this way, the two elements are noncompetitive and the mission patch can achieve the emphasis it deserves.

We could never explain it better than that. 

indiegroundblog nasa manual 01

Usually, the design process starts right after the crew is assigned to a mission. It is custom that the youngest member of the crew takes care of the mission patch, as they are the most excited about the next flight into space. The rules to follow are stated in the manual, and after the first sketches sometimes crews involve an artist to complete the job.

This is what Tim Gagnon (a NASA space patch artist) says about the many rules of designing a mission patch: “As can be expected, there’s a long list of specifications and rules to follow, such as using block lettering to list the crew members’ names and sometimes a slogan, and avoiding any kind of visual symbolism that might be misinterpreted.” 

Contemporary Artworks inspired by NASA mission Patches

NASA, the Moon landing, and everything-space have a huge impact on the imagination of creatives and artists across all disciplines. Illustration, advertising, fine art, you name it. 

Space Mission Patches, with their visionary and futuristic quality, hold a special place in the imaginary of contemporary artist, especially in those fascinated by retro futurism. Many have created their own version of aviation, NASA or space mission art. Space Shuttles, complex retro machinery, space suits. Here are some examples of how our favourite contemporary artists have created artworks inspired by retro NASA aesthetics.

NASA Aesthetics: Now it's your Turn

Here at Indieground Design, we are big fans of space mission patches, NASA inspired artwork and everything space related. This is why we have designed our own graphic resource inspired by the NASA Graphic Standard Manual and the mission badge futuristic aesthetic. 

airone font indieground

With our FREE Airone Font, you can easily design a mission patch, a poster, artowork or just anything related to aviation and space missions. The font has the perfect extra bold appeal and is designed to accomplish a solid look and feel. You can try it with our free version, have fun with it and see where your creativity takes you! Stay Rad.

Picture of Indieground Design

Indieground Design

We are a team of designers, developers & photographers from Italy and we love to create striking graphic resources! Have a look around our website to discover more about what we do and the services we offer!

Picture of Indieground Design

Indieground Design

We are a team of designers, developers & photographers from Italy and we love to create striking graphic resources! Have a look around our website to discover more about what we do and the services we offer!

Popular Articles
From the Shop
Check our premium products
Other Creative Stories
Wanna See More?
We have an entire archive of articles about graphic design, pop culture and 80s and 90s aesthetics. Check it out!

Follow us