Happy Birthday, Meatball! NASA’s Iconic Logo Celebrates 65 Years

NASA Meatball Logo Vehicle Assembly Building

Painting of the NASA logo, also called the meatball, on the 525-foot-tall Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center on June 23, 2020. Credit: NASA/Ben Smegelsky

NASA’s “meatball” logo turns 65 on July 15, 2024. Celebrations at NASA Glenn will include a public event and an online campaign to honor the logo’s history and impact. The event will feature various activities and aims to inspire the next generation in science and art.

On July 15, 2024, NASA’s logo is turning 65. The iconic symbol, known affectionately as “the meatball,” was developed at NASA’s Lewis Research Center in Cleveland (now called NASA Glenn). Employee James Modarelli, who started his career at the center as an artist and technical illustrator, was its chief designer.

The red, white, and blue design, which includes elements representing NASA’s space and aeronautics missions, became the official logo of the United States’ new space agency in 1959. A simplified version of NASA’s formal seal, the symbol has launched on rockets, flown to the Moon and beyond, and even adorns the International Space Station.

NASA Meatball Logo

The round red, white, and blue insignia, nicknamed the “meatball,” was designed by employee James Modarelli in 1959, NASA’s second year. The design incorporates references to different aspects of the mission of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The round shape of the insignia represents a planet. The stars represent space. The red v-shaped wing represents aeronautics. The circular orbit around the agency’s name represents space travel. Credit: NASA

Along with its importance as a timeless symbol of exploration and discovery, the logo is also one of the world’s most recognized brand symbols. It gained its nickname in 1975 to differentiate it from NASA’s “worm” logotype. The “meatball” and these other NASA designs have made waves in pop culture.

“NASA’s brand elements are wildly popular.”

Aimee crane, Merchandising and Branding Clearance Manager

“NASA’s brand elements are wildly popular,” said Aimee Crane, merchandising and branding clearance manager for the agency. “Every year, the agency receives requests to merchandise more than 10,000 NASA-inspired items.”

Painting NASA Meatball Logo

A painter applies a fresh coat of paint to the NASA “meatball” logo on the north façade of Glenn Research Center’s Flight Research Building, or hangar, in 2006. Credit: NASA/Marvin Smith

To mark the “meatball” logo’s birthday and highlight the center’s contributions to its design, NASA Glenn will host a free admission day at Great Lakes Science Center in Cleveland from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET on July 15. A birthday celebration and cake-cutting ceremony will begin at 10:30 a.m. and feature remarks from center leadership, a visit from the Modarelli family, and special presentations from the city and state.

NASA Meatball Logo Install 1962

Workers install the NASA “meatball” logo on the front of the Flight Research Building, or hangar, at Lewis Research Center (now NASA Glenn) in 1962. Credit: NASA

A host of additional activities will celebrate the intersection of science and art. Visitors can meet NASA Glenn’s award-winning photographers and videographers, show off their artistic skills by participating in a coloring contest, hear more about the history and symbolism behind the logo, and learn about creative careers within the agency.

“It’s not just rocket scientists here at NASA.”

Kristen Parker, NASA Glenn Communications Director

“It’s not just rocket scientists here at NASA,” said Kristen Parker, NASA Glenn’s communications director. “As we celebrate the legacy of this iconic logo, we acknowledge the essential contributions of all the career fields involved in making the agency’s missions possible. We hope this inspires the next generation of students in every discipline to explore opportunities with NASA.”

James Modarelli NASA Meatball

In 1949, after graduating from the Cleveland Institute of Art, James “Jim” Modarelli began his career as an artist-designer at the laboratory that would become the NASA Glenn Research Center. When the NACA was approved to be absorbed into the new space agency—NASA, employees were invited to submit designs for the Agency’s logo. Modarelli, who was serving as the Management Services Division Chief at the time, submitted the winning designs. The official NASA seal and the less formal NASA “meatball” insignia (shown here) are among the most recognized emblems in the world. The logos, which include symbols representing the space and aeronautics missions of NASA, became official in 1959. In July 1958, Modarelli participated in a tour at the Ames Unitary Plan Wind Tunnel, where he viewed a model of a radical supersonic airplane designed for flight at Mach 3.0. With a cambered, twisted arrow wing and an upturned nose, the model deeply impressed Modarelli. He later stylized the radical features of the arrow-wing configuration in his evolution of the NASA seal design; the wing would also become an element of the NASA insignia. Credit: NASA

NASA’s logo is everywhere. If you’re not in the Northeast Ohio area, join the logo’s birthday celebration online by engaging with NASA Glenn on social media and sharing photos of where you’ve seen the logo in your own life.

NASA Glenn designs and develops innovative technology that’s revolutionizing air travel, advancing space exploration, and improving life on Earth. Beyond designing the logo, the center has played a part in nearly every NASA mission since the agency’s inception and continues to have a crucial role in advancing the Artemis missions to the Moon and beyond.

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