Do the worm!

Wormy Boi

Does any other federal agency in the United States — or, let's be real, any part of a government in the entire world — have branding quite as iconic as NASA?

The agency's incredible "worm" logotype is the work of Richard Danne. And this week, NASA awarded the designer an "exceptional public achievement" medal for making those four little letters so unforgettable.

As the CollectSpace blog reports, the history of Danne's groundbreaking work is, as the designer himself put it at the awards ceremony, "hard to explain."

Along with his late design partner Bruce Blackburn, Danne created the famous worm-like logo back in 1975 after President Richard Nixon enlisted the National Endowment of Arts to revamp the visual branding of all federal agencies.

The bright red logo reigned for less than two decades before the agency unceremoniously scrapped it to return to its original "meatball" design — you know, the one with the circular blue background and random red arrow — in 1992. Then, almost 30 years after that, NASA finally reinstated the worm in 2020, and emblazoned it upon a SpaceX rocket for good measure.

Cult Classic

In the years of its "purgatory," as NASA branding liaison Bert Ulrich called the decades when the worm was nowhere to be found on any of the agency's official insignia, the worm's simple, elegant, and futuristic design gained something of a cult status.

"Fashion houses started coming to us wanting to use the worm," Ulrich said, "and it just sort of filtered into the popular culture in a way which was really astounding."

Even though it was officially scrapped, NASA employees have long identified with the worm — even, or perhaps especially, while it was typeface non grata.

"Through all of this, even when it was rescinded, it only got more popular," said Danne. "When they reintroduced it, it invigorated everything again."

During this awards ceremony, NASA honored Danne, Blackburn and former agency design director Robert Schulman by dedicating the newly-erected worm logo that sits outside the agency's Washington, DC HQ building, which in 2021 was renamed for "hidden figure" Mary Winston Jackson, NASA's first Black female engineer.

The designer acknowledged that although it "has not always been easy," his relationship to NASA "helped the agency achieve its missions and goals."

"This event, a culmination of a 50-year trek, is extremely rewarding," Danne said. "Creating the worm for NASA has been a singular achievement in my own career and in the history of design."

More on NASA history: Anti-Trans Laws Force Engineer to Quit Job Helping NASA With Moon Missions

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