How Patches are Designed
Patch design is one of the miscellaneous duties of a flight crew.
It has become obligatory for each crew to create a patch for their
mission. Sometimes the crew commander takes an active role in the
design; in other cases the commander may delegate the duty of coming
up with a design to one of the crewmembers. The commander always
has final say on the design, of course.
Sometimes an artistically inclined crewmember may design the patch,
or create a sketch which is then given to a NASA graphic artist
to execute. Jim Lovell seemed to enjoy designing patches for flights
he was assigned to. Mike Collins also took a very active role in
the development of patches for his flights. Sometimes the crew will
solicit ideas for a patch designs from others involved in the project
-- often including spacecraft contractor personnel. In the early days of the Apollo program, Allen Stevens, an artist with Apollo contractor North American Aviation (later North American Rockwell), did most of the mission patches.
In other cases, the crew simply commissions a professional artist
to create their crew patch. Robert McCall was commissioned for the
Apollo 17 patch; and Frank Kelly
Freas for the Skylab 1 patch. In
the case of a commissioned patch, the crew will generally provide
some ideas to the artist regarding the themes they would like to
see associated with their flight. The artist then submits a number
of sketches to the crew for their feedback, and eventually produces
the finished artwork. (See Skylab Patchwork
by Frank Kelly Freas for an excellent account of how this process
The artist doesn't always provide the finished artwork: in the
case of Apollo 15, Dave Scott asked
Emilio Pucci to design the patch, but when Pucci provided a sketched design
Scott handed it over to the MSC art department to do the final rendering, with a request for changes.
During the Gemini program embroidered patches were sewn onto the
astronauts space suits. And while the actual patches used on flights
from Apollo 7 through ASTP were silk-screened onto beta cloth, for
non-flight use embroidered patches were procured. These were affixed
to ground-use clothing worn by the crew, worn by support and contractor
personnel involved in the mission, and handed out as souvenirs by
the astronaut crew and high-level NASA managers.
AB Emblem & Lion Brothers
Two companies figure prominently in the story of embroidered space
patches. Both A-B Emblem of Weaverville, NC and Lion Brothers of
MD have made claims to being the "official" provider of embroidered
emblems for pre-Shuttle manned missions. However, it appears that
Lion Brothers was never utilized by NASA for mission patches, though
contractors apparently procured patches from them. A standing contract
was executed between NASA and AB Emblem in February 1970, and all
mission patches from that time through the end of the Skylab program
(including the embroidered SMEAT patches) were supplied to NASA
by AB Emblem.
The issue of what patches are "official" is extremely
murky, since the definition of "official" is itself very
unclear. Embroidered patches were procured by NASA and the major
contractors independently of each other. Different suppliers were
used, even for a given mission. Some people consider patches that
were given out by NASA and contractors as "official."
Based on this, some consider only Lion Brothers patches to be "official."
Yet, documents in the NASA JSC History Office Collection indisputably
prove that AB Emblem was the supplier to NASA for at least the Apollo
13 through Skylab 4 missions.
Even if being flown on a mission is considered to confer the cachet
of "official," the matter doesn't revolve around the patch
manufacturer. According to Still, astronauts sometimes carried a
mix of AB Emblem and Lion Brothers patches in their Personal Preference
The biggest difference between AB Emblem and Lion Brothers patches
(aside from appearance) is that Lion Brothers manufactured patches
only at the time of the flight; whereas AB Emblem has more or less
continuously manufactured the patches since the time of the flight.
Thus, Lion Brothers patches are certainly "period pieces,"
or "vintage," while AB Emblem patches could be from any
era between shortly before the flight to the current day.
Patch designs and fidelity
Currently available embroidered patches fall in several categories:
completely bogus patches that never existed (Mercury missions and
Geminis 3 and 4); 3" souvenir patches ; 4" patches that are usually
of good quality but poor fidelity (especially Apollos 7 through
10); and faithfully executed 4" patches.
Beta cloth patches
Beta cloth was manufactured by
Owens-Corning Fiberglass of Ashton, RI, under contract to NASA.
Owens-Corning in turn subcontracted the printing on its Beta cloth
Screen Print Corp., of Coventry, Rhode Island. The patch designs
were silk-screened (using hand-mixed pigments from Roma Color of
Fall River, MA) onto beta cloth 12 at a time, with a separate printing
for each color. Screen Print Corp. also printed the NASA logo, the
American flag (for crew wear), and crew name tags onto Beta cloth.
Considering the number of beta cloth patches on the collector's
market with poor registration (i.e. alignment of the various colors)
it seems likely that many of the beta cloth patches being sold today
were rejects from the quality control process.
Other uses of patches
In addition to being worn by crew, ground support personnel and
contractor personnel to signify playing an active role in support
of a mission, other traditional uses of the mission patch evolved.
At some point after Gemini 5 it became a tradition in the MOCR
(mission operations control room) to place a large replica of a
mission patch on the wall of the MOCR after the successful recovery
of the crew.
Astronaut transfer van
Beginning with Apollo 7, an image of the crew patch was placed on the door of the crew transfer van which
carries a flight crew, already fully suited, from the crew quarters
building to the launch pad. Below is a photo of Steve Tatham, the driver of the crew transfer van.
Obviously someone noticed that when the crew entered the van, the patch on the outside of the door was not visible. So beginning with Apollo 8, the crew patch was displayed
on the inside of the door as well.
Astronauts began taking patches on their flights with them in order
to have their own souvenirs of the flight, and to present to family,
friends and coworkers.
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