Virgil “Gus” Grissom
Edward White
Roger Chaffee


Allen Stevens

Apollo 1

“The Apollo 1 patch was designed by the crew as all others were and had been approved. Since this was destined to be the first Apollo orbital flight, this was the prime theme.”

—Donald “Deke” Slayton, Deke!

There is disagreement over whether the Apollo 1 patch had been approved. In fact, the patch had been approved in June 1966. By January 1967, there was some doubt that the flight would in fact be designated as Apollo 1 (officially it was being called Apollo 204). So on January 20, 1967 George Low sent a letter to Deke Slayton withdrawing approval for the patch, and indicating that once the mission designation was firmly settled the patch might need to be revised.

Unlike all other Apollo patches, there was no beta cloth version; Beta cloth patches were instituted in consequence of the fire that killed the Apollo 1 crew.

Using the American flag as a border for the patch was an interesting design element that is unique to this patch, and hearkens back to the American flag that McDivitt claimed was the patch for the Gemini 4 crew of himself and ... Ed White.

A story that I’ve heard about the Apollo 1 patch relates that the black border was “added” after the fire in memory of the fallen astronauts. This is clearly untrue, since not only does the original artwork include a black border (albeit a narrow one), but photos of the Apollo 1 crew wearing embroidered patches clearly show that these patches had a black border (see photos below).

The creator of this patch was unknown until May 2008, when Ed Hengeveld and Noah Bradley identified Allen Stevens of North American Rockwell as the artist.

NASA photo S66-36742

This excellent embroidered Apollo 1 patch (a recent re-creation) deviates only slightly from the artwork. The most significant alteration is the omission of the black border around the landmasses on the Earth. This excellent execution shows just how attractive the Apollo 1 patch is.

This is the patch worn by the crew. It was made by Stylized Emblem Company of Hollywood, CA. While not particularly faithful to the original artwork (the biggest deviation is in the relative sizes of the border areas to the central vignette), it certainly deserves to be called “authentic”, since it is the design used by the astronauts. Thanks to Bill Hunt for this image.

The most commonly seen embroidered Apollo 1 patch, made by AB Emblem, is quite similar to the “authentic” patch from Stylized Emblem. It can be easily distinguished from the “real thing” by the stitching pattern in the image of the Earth: on this patch the stitching is horizontal; on the authentic patch this stitching is almost at right angles to the limb of the Earth. Also, the moon in this version has silver threads. Finally, some of the border stars in the original are slightly distorted, while on this reproduction they are more carfully rendered.
85mm dia

Another variant, this one by Lion Brothers, has a yellow border; space is blue instead of black (making it the only patch to match the artwork in this respect); and the central vignette is too small in relation to the overall patch. Otherwise a nice rendition.
89mm w × 90mm h

NASA Photo KSC-366C-126-16
Roger Chaffee in October 1966, wearing the crew patch on his left shoulder.

NASA Photo KSC-67PC-16.
Gus Grissom, ten days before the fatal fire. Notice that the patch has moved to the right breast.

Footnote: the Molly Brown Patch

According to John Young, during his Apollo training Gus Grissom had a batch of “Molly Brown” patches made. This patch commemorated his and Young’s Gemini 3 mission, on which the radio call sign “Molly Brown” was used. Grissom’s “Molly Brown” patch shows a Gemini capsule serenely floating in the ocean, awaiting recovery — in contrast to Grissom’s Mercury flight, when his “Liberty Bell 7” capsule sank to the bottom of the Atlantic after the hatch prematurely jettisoned.

While I’ve never seen a photo of Grissom himself wearing one of these “Molly Brown” patches, there are numerous photos of Young wearing this patch — posing for Apollo 10 crew portraits, during his training for the Apollo 16 mission, and during the Shuttle era. So it is clear that both Grissom and Young adopted this as their Gemini 3 mission patch ex post facto.

I offer this patch here because, despite flying two missions, and being assigned to command a third, Grissom never flew a space flight with a mission patch. His Mercury and Gemini flights came prior to the advent of mission patches; and he never got to fly the Apollo mission for which he finally had a patch.