Beloved or Despised, the NASA Worm Is Back

Beloved or Despised, the NASA Worm Is Back

NASA’s “worm” logo is back.  Created in the 1970s and banned in the 1990s, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine revealed today that it will adorn the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that restores America’s ability to launch astronauts from American soil.  The decision came as a surprise to the NASA community.

NASA’s original “meatball” logo was replaced by the worm in 1975 in an effort to update the agency’s image.  Some loved it, others did not.

NASA’s “meatball” logo


NASA’s “worm” logo

As the story goes, when Dan Goldin became Administrator in 1992, one of his first visits was to NASA’s Langley Research Center (LaRC) where Center Director Paul Holloway urged him to get rid of it and restore the meatball.  According to a NASA LaRC website about Holloway, who died in 2013,  he “was behind killing the despised ‘worm’ logo” as a sure way to raise the morale at the agency, which was going through a rough patch with the defective Hubble mirror and space station delays and cost overruns.

“Agency Director Goldin flew into LaRC on a Thursday and a passenger on his plane looked at the worm logo on a Langley hangar and asked ‘Why in the world do we have that awful logo?’  Soon after Goldin got off the plane, Langley Director Paul Holloway made a suggestion. ‘You know how to lift the morale of NASA?’ Holloway asked the boss. ‘You can do it by changing the worm.’  By Friday morning the worm was out, and the meatball was back.” — LaRC website about Paul Holloway

But now the worm is back, as Bridenstine revealed in a tweet with a photo with it emblazoned on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket that will launch the Demo-2 mission.

In an email to, he noted that he was born the year the logo was adopted by NASA and adorned a favorite poster in his room.

As a huge fan of the iconic NASA worm logo, I thought marking the achievement of returning human spaceflight to American soil by bringing back the worm would be a fitting tribute to a historic achievement. I grew up inspired by NASA missions during the era of the NASA worm. In fact, I was born in 1975, the year the NASA worm logo was first introduced. In the 80s, I had a NASA X-29 (my favorite plane) poster hanging in my room. It sported the NASA worm on its tail.

I’m very appreciative of the partnership with SpaceX and their willingness to work overtime to make this happen. — Jim Bridenstine

He has not abandoned the meatball, though.  NASA is debating “how and where” the worm will be used.  “It seems the worm logo wasn’t really retired. It was just resting up for the next chapter of space exploration. And don’t worry, the meatball will remain NASA’s primary symbol.”

Alan Ladwig, who gave himself the whimsical title of “worm eradicator” when he worked for Goldin in those years overseeing the agency-wide effort to change the logo back to the meatball, thinks younger workers prefer the worm because the meatball symbolizes the old way of doing things.  Regardless of which is used, the “NASA logo is universally recognized” and a real conversation starter, usually with someone saying “I love NASA.” Personally, he adds, “I respect the meatball, but I love the worm,” which is easier to recognize from afar and a more compelling visual. Now an artist, he knows a lot about that. Ladwig is also the author of “See You in Orbit: Our Dream of Spaceflight.”


Note: This article has been updated with the quotes from Ladwig.

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