A History of NASA Mission Patches
Learn all about NASA mission patches and where they came from.
One of the rarest things on Earth is something that is actually pretty common. Patches. We’re not talking about just any patch though. Some of the rarest are NASA mission patches. Especially ones that went into space. So where did these patches come from? Why does every mission get its own?
The tradition of unit or mission patches is a military thing. Many of the early astronauts had military backgrounds and decided to keep the tradition alive.
The first official NASA patch was for the Gemini 5 mission. And it caused a little bit of trouble. The astronauts going on that mission, Gordon Cooper and Pete Conrad, had about 100 patches made, each with a covered wagon and the slogan “8 Days or Bust” stitched on. The goal of the mission was to beat the Russians record of almost five days in space. But no one was sure that Gemini 5 would make it to eight days. They had to remove the phrase from the patches in case the mission failed.
Since the Gemini 5 mission, every NASA mission has had a patch. And the patch is the first thing they figure out after they get their assignment. It’s true! After NASA assigns the goal of the mission, the team sits down to design the mission patch and pick a mission name.
The patch fitting the mission doesn’t mean it’ll get approval. That makes for a second kind of patch that is almost as rare as the one actually sewn to the astronaut’s spacesuits—the unofficial alternative patches. Even if the bosses said no, it doesn’t mean that someone didn’t send the design over to production. One of the most famous is for a flight scheduled to land on Friday the 13th. The patch shows a shuttle flying under a black cat, a traditionally unlucky symbol, just like Friday the 13th.
Most of the patches also have the names of the crew on them. However, there is one that stands out, and it’s the most famous space mission ever. Apollo 11, the mission that first put a man on the moon, doesn’t have the names of the crew on the patch. Instead, it’s an eagle landing on the moon with an olive branch. The crew felt putting their names on the patch wasn’t right. The whole mission was more than them—it was all of humanity. Because of that, Earth is in the distance, much like it would look from the surface of the moon for the first time.
Since the first patch, NASA has the same company make every patch. A-B Emblem has produced every NASA mission patch in their Weaverville, North Carolina, factory.
Maybe you have some patches that you’ve collected. Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts earn patches for completing different tasks. Often sports teams will have patches sewen to their jerseys. A lot of places sell them as souvenirs, like national parks! So even if you can’t get your hands on an original NASA mission patch, you can find replicas online. Or start a collection for every place you visit, especially national parks!
If you want to see every NASA mission patch you can go to https://go.nasa.gov/2YU8Mmx and look at them all.