History of Patches
A tradition that grew up in the military was for a crew to design
a patch that symbolizes their mission, and to use it to represent
them and their mission. As the early astronaut corps was comprised
largely of military pilots, it was natural that the same tradition
should take hold in the space program.
The Mercury flights were crewed by a single pilot, and the tradition
during that program tended toward naming the spacecraft, as military
pilots often give names to their aircraft. Alan Shepard began the
tradition with his Freedom 7. According to Shepard, the "7"
denoted the fact that his was capsule number 7 - that is, the 7th
built by the manufacturer, McDonnell Aircraft. Apparently most people
thought that the "7" referred to the number of astronauts in the
program, and since this idea was so appealing, subsequent capsule
names all included the "7".
|Mercury Redstone 3
||Alan B. Shepard
|Mercury Redstone 4
||Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom
||Liberty Bell 7
|Mercury Atlas 6
||John H. Glenn, Jr
|Mercury Atlas 7
||Malcolm Scott Carpenter
|Mercury Atlas 8
||Walter M. Schirra, Jr
|Mercury Atlas 9
||Leroy Gordon Cooper, Jr
On a somewhat related note, when John Glenn got his
second ride into space -- on the Space Shuttle Discovery, 36 years
after his first flight -- the crew consisted of 7 astronauts: the
size of the entire astronaut corps at the time of Glenn's Friendship
7 flight! The patch for this mission incorporated a large red
numeral 7, in a style similar to that used on Glenn's Friendship
It was when multi-person crews began flying in the Gemini program
that the idea of a crew patch came into its own. It came in the
wake of the disapproval of spacecraft names by NASA higher-ups after
Gus Grissom named his inaugural Gemini spacecraft Molly Brown
(from the Broadway musical The Unsinkable Molly Brown), in
remembrance of his sunken Mercury capsule,
NASA management was unhappy with the name Molly Brown, thinking
it a bit frivolous. Jim McDivitt wanted to name his Gemini spacecraft
American Eagle, but headquarters had had enough of names,
and vetoed the idea. So instead the Gemini 4 crew, Jim McDivitt
and Ed White, decided to use the American flag as their crew patch.
While it seems surprising now, earlier astronauts did not wear an
American flag on their pressure suits -- just a name tag and the
NASA emblem. However, like the "7" of Freedom 7, the idea
caught on and has persisted to this day: all American crews since
Gemini 4 have worn an American flag on their flight suits.
The next crew, Gemini 5's Gordon Cooper and Pete Conrad, wanted
to find a way to personalize their flight, so Conrad hit on the
idea of a patch -- such as Navy air squadrons have. With an ambitious
8-day mission planned, the longest to date, they designed a patch
featuring a Conestoga wagon and the pioneering motto "8 Days or
Bust". While NASA administrator Webb conceded to
the crew their right to a mission patch, he decreed that the
wording be deleted, lest a shortened mission be referred to as a
The tradition of a mission patch continues to the present time,
with every Shuttle mission crew designing and wearing a patch usually
signifying something unique about their flight.
The Popularization of Patches
While mission patches were initially an informal creation by the
crew, they quickly became formalized, and were widely-used to symbolize
each flight. Inevitably, space enthusiasts started collecting mission
patches and, just as inevitably, entrepreneurs saw this trend as
an opportunity to make money. The patch business was born. Patch
collecting became so popular that entrepreneurs designed patches
for all the flights that never had one. These patches are usually
characterized by a stark lack of imagination and creative design.
While mission patches up to and including Apollo 1 were embroidered,
following the tragic Apollo 1 fire, all flammable materials were
banned from the spacecraft, and this included embroidered patches.
Instead, beginning with Apollo 7 all crew patches were silk-screened
onto non-flammable "Beta cloth". Embroidered
versions of each patch were still used by astronauts and ground
support personnel for non-flight use [Still,
p. 168] - and purchased by collectors. Unfortunately, in the rush
for profit, the creators of embroidered patches were seldom concerned
with fidelity to the original design.
The most egregious departures, of course, were the designs (mentioned
earlier) that never existed, but were invented long after the fact,
to satisfy unknowledgeable collectors' lust for "complete collections".
The astronauts had nothing to do with these patches or their designs.
Amazingly, even some of NASA's own web sites (for example, KSC's Historical
Archive pages) display these after-the-fact commemorative patches.
Another example of serious departure from the original design: certain Gemini mission patches did not include
the names of the crew (Gemini 7, 9 and 10), but in commercially
sold versions the crew names have been added. The early Apollo patches suffered greatly in the transition to embroidery; however,
beginning with Apollo 11 the embroidered patches became much more
faithful to the original design. Sadly, the embroidered versions
of the earlier patches have become so pervasive that many people
are unfamiliar with the true appearance of the earlier designs.
The marketing of mission patches hit a few bumps in the road over
the years, in the form of NASA enforcement of restrictions on use
of patches. As part of the caption of every mission patch from Gemini
5 through Apollo 14, the following paragraph was included:
"The NASA insignia design for [Gemini/Apollo] flights is reserved
for use by the astronauts and for other official use as the NASA
Administrator may authorize. Public availability has been approved
only in the form of illustrations by the various news media. When
and if there is any change in this policy, which we do not anticipate,
it will be publicly announced."
The captions for the Apollo 15 and 16 patches included this more
strongly worded notice:
"This is the official Apollo [15/16] emblem, property of the
government of the United States. It has been authorized only for
use by the astronauts. Its reproduction in any form other than in
news, information and education media is not authorized without
approval. Unauthorized use of the photograph is subject to the provisions
of Title 18, U.S. Code, Section 701."
The notice was dropped completely beginning with the Apollo 17
patch. For more information on this issue, see Still and Kircher.
"The Apollo 204 review board ... recommended that non-flammable
materials replace combustible ones wherever possible. ... Nylon
cloth in the spacecraft and in the suits was replaced by Beta cloth,
a substance developed by Frederick S. Dawn's research team in conjunction
with the Dow-Corning Company. Technically called Beta-silica fiber,
it was a different material than that used in trade-name Fiberglass
products. Beta-silica fibers could be spun into thin threads and
then woven into fabric with a melting point of over 650°C that
would neither ignite nor produce toxic fumes." [Kozloski,
"The ITMG [integrated thermal micrometeoroid garment, the outermost
component of the Apollo spacesuit] also had a Beta cloth outer layer.
Scientists found that Beta cloth by itself creased easily and ripped.
But Teflon added tensile strength and abrasion resistance when used
as a coating over the Beta silica fiber, which was then spun into
yarn. ... Intravehicular cover layers were made of two layers of
woven Teflon-coated Beta silica fiber..." [Kozloski,
"On prolonged flights, astronauts could now remove their space
suits and don two-piece coveralls that afforded both comfort and
protection. The coveralls, which were worn over a soft cotton undergarment,
were made from Beta cloth, the same flame-resistant fabric as the
space suit outer layer." [Kozloski,
An interesting side note regarding Beta cloth developed during
the preparations for the joint American-Soviet ASTP flight. Since
the Soviet Soyuz spacecraft uses an earth-normal mixture of oxygen
and nitrogen, they do not have the strict flammability requirements
of Apollo, and therefore use wool and cotton clothing inside Soyuz.
This posed a problem for crew exchange as the cosmonauts could not
be allowed to enter Apollo wearing their normal in-flight garments.
NASA offered to give the Soviets enough Beta cloth to produce alternative
in-flight garments for the cosmonauts, but they declined the offer,
opting instead to develop their own flameproof material. The fabric
they developed, called Lola, proved to have superior self-extinguishing
characteristics to Beta cloth. [Ezell,
It's important to note that, as with their embroidered equivalents, when
the spacesuits worn on a flight are returned to Houston, the flown patches are
removed from the suits, given to the astronaut who wore the suit, and replaced
with unflown (but otherwise identical) patches.
The first Beta cloth patch was for the 2TV-1 vaccuum-chamber mission simulation. The size of the images tended to vary quite
a lot for the first several missions, but was finally standardized with Apollo
13. The largest of the Beta cloth patches was Apollo 8; the smallest was Apollo
12. The image below shows the variation in sizes.
|The inner circle represents the Apollo 12 patch (the
smallest of the Beta cloth patches); the light gray triangular area represents
the Apollo 8 patch (the largest); and the black circle represents the standard
size established with the Apollo 13 patch.
Title 18, US Code, Section 701
TITLE 18--CRIMES AND CRIMINAL PROCEDURE
CHAPTER 33--EMBLEMS, INSIGNIA, AND NAMES
Sec. 701. Official badges, identification cards, other
Whoever manufactures, sells, or possesses any badge, identification
card, or other insignia, of the design prescribed by the head of
any department or agency of the United States for use by any officer
or employee thereof, or any colorable imitation thereof, or photographs,
prints, or in any other manner makes or executes any engraving,
photograph, print, or impression in the likeness of any such badge,
identification card, or other insignia, or any colorable imitation
thereof, except as authorized under regulations made pursuant to
law, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than
six months, or both.
This page copyright © 2000-2009 Eugene Dorr.
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