NASA mission patches

The familiar patches used to identify NASA missions did not exist in the Mercury era, but the patches from Gemini and Apollo onwards provide a colourful chronicle of the American adventure in space.

Apollo 8 patch, sketched up by Jim Lovell during a flight with Frank Borman shortly after they had learned their mission would be the first around the Moon. From Apollo 9 onwards, the need to distinguish between the LM and CSM meant that astronauts were once again allowed to name their spacecraft. The later Apollo patches often reference the spacecraft names - most notably on the famous Apollo 11 Eagle patch. The elegant Apollo 15 patch was designed by Italian dress designer (and former aeronautical engineer) Emilio Pucci, at the special request of the crew.

The post-Apollo patches tended to be based on ideas that came from NASA centres, which were then selected and tweaked at the request of the crew. Curiously, the Skylab patches are wrongly numbered - they ignore the fact that Skylab 1 was actually -the station's unmanned launch.

The first mission patch came about at the direct request of the Gemini 5 crew. After the fuss about Gus Grissom wanting to name Gemini 3 Molly Brown (see p.82), NASA decided it would no longer allow astronauts to name their spacecraft. Gordon Cooper felt strongly that the astronauts should put some kind of personal stamp on each mission and submitted an aviation-inspired handmade "mission patch" to NASA Administrator James Webb. The idea was approved, but on the condition that the words "8 days or bust" were covered up - NASA did not want to tempt fate or snide remarks from the media if the flight failed to last for its intended duration.

Throughout the Gemini and Apollo missions, astronauts tackled the prospect of designing their patches with enthusiasm - sometimes recruiting family members to help, sometimes working with official NASA artists. Among the most striking is the


September 1960

John C. Houboult begins lobbying within NASA to promote the advantatges of lunar orbit fendezvous for a manned Moon

27 October 1961

A test of the Saturn I launch vehicle marks the first launch of the Apollo programme.

21 December 1961

NASA selects the Saturn C-5 as its Moon rocket. In the preceding days, contracts have been awarded for construction of various stages.

6 February 1962

Robert Gilruth and the Space Task Group conclude that an LOR mission is the best way to reach the Moon.

Planning Apollo

In the wake of President Kennedy's monumental announcement, NASA's experts turned their attention to working out how they would turn Project Apollo into a reality.

The challenge of putting a spacecraft on the Moon and returning it safely was not a trivial one, and the first decision that had to be made was precisely how NASA would get there. Three clear options soon emerged, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. These were direct ascent (DA), Earth orbit rendezvous (EOR), and lunar orbit rendezvous (LOR) (see illustration, opposite).

While direct ascent was the simplest approach, it required far more fuel than the other options and would involve the construction of truly monstrous rockets, so large that their construction and testing would almost certainly push the project past its 1969 deadline. The choice therefore narrowed down to

Rockets for the Moon

More debate surrounded the choice of

Rockets for the Moon

More debate surrounded the choice of


Technicians at North American Aviation's factory in Downey, California, prepare to fit the heat shield to the Command Module of Apollo CSM 012, the module that should hove hosted Apollo 1.

7 june 1962

Wernher von Braun backs an LOR mission.

11 July 1962

James Webb announces NASA's decision to base Apollo around an LOR mission profile.

7 November 1963

Pad Abort Test 1 sees the first test of a boilerplate Apollo CSM.

the two options that involved in-flight docking and separation. EOR kept these delicate exercises in the relative safety of Earth orbit, but it also involved taking a large fuel-laden spacecraft down to the lunar surface. LOR shifted the in-flight manoeuvres away from the Earth, and risked stranding the astronauts, but it considerably reduced the size of the lunar lander required. In the end, the LOR advocates, led by John C. Houboult of Langley Research Laboratory, won the vital backing of Wernher von Braun for their approach, and in July 1962 the decision to go with an LOR mission was formally approved.

rocket that would take Apollo to the Moon. NASA was already developing its own massive launcher, called Nova, when von Braun's ABMA team formally joined the organisation. The Huntsville group brought with them plans for a heavy-lift launcher called Saturn.

The vehicle's first stage was already being tested, and plans for the upper stages were well developed, so a NASA committee was established to evaluate them, under experienced engineer Abe Silverstein. They recommended a variety of configurations, including a giant called the Saturn C-5. NASA ultimately decided that this rocket (later known as the Saturn V) would be easier to get into production by the deadline than their own Nova. Since the Moon rocket itself would not be ready for several years, they would also develop the Saturn C-1 (later Saturn I), a simpler variant more reliant on existing technology, for testing lunar spacecraft hardware in Earth orbit. Von Braun was delighted - his team at Huntsville's newly established Marshall Space Flight Center would be at the heart of the US lunar effort.


Technicians at North American Aviation's factory in Downey, California, prepare to fit the heat shield to the Command Module of Apollo CSM 012, the module that should hove hosted Apollo 1.


The lower stage of a Saturn I, seen here being unloaded from its transport barge, reveals its secret - the basis of von Braun's first Saturn rocket was in fact a cluster of eight Redstone rockets surrounding a central Jupiter, each with improved engines.


A Moon landing would require precise use of the IM's retro-rockets. To practise descent, astronauts used the ungainly Lunar Landing Research Vehicle, soon nicknamed the Flying Bedstead.

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