A Mission Insignia: Symbol Of A Mission To The Moon
What started as a way for astronauts to bring some personality into their missions, patches have become the most recognizable representation of a flight. More than that, they have become a favorite among collectors as a fun and often affordable way to be involved with and hold on to some aspect of space exploration.
Museum Exhibit: The Apollo Patches
The Apollo program was the first where every mission had a specially designed patch. The collection here is complete, though one might wonder why the jump between Apollo 1 and Apollo 7. After the Apollo 1 crew was lost during a fire on the launch pad, NASA was forced to step back and revise its spacecraft and reassess the whole program. There was no Apollo 2 or an Apollo 3, and Apollos 4 through 6 were unmanned tests of the spacecraft. Apollo 7 was the first manned mission, and the first mission to have a patch after Apollo 1.
Fun Fact 1: A Change in Patch Material
After the Apollo 1 fire, NASA sought to get as much flammable material out of the spacecraft as possible. This included the patches that, until then, had been embroidered. They were replaced by silkscreened images on beta cloth, a flame resistant material that was safer to sew to a spacesuit over an astronaut’s chest.
The First Patches
The Mercury astronauts got to personalize their missions by naming their spacecraft, but after Gus Grissom tried to name his Gemini 3 spacecraft (the first flight of the program) “Molly Brown,” NASA nixed the tradition of spacecraft names. To give their mission something unique, the crew of Gemini 4 added American flag patches to their flight suits; Commander Jim McDivitt had wanted to name the spacecraft “American Eagle”. Wanting to do something equally unique for his Gemini 5 mission, Pilot Pete Conrad thought of a mission patch. It was a military tradition for a crew to design a patch to represent their mission, and since all the astronauts in the early 1960s were military pilots, it seemed natural that they should adapt the tradition to spaceflight.
Patches as Collectors Items
The patches that started informally among the astronaut corps have not only become formalized, they have become something the public has latched on to. Space fans collect sets of patches and some groups even design their own to commemorate going to a launch together. And while the true design of mission patches has been buried under commemorative patches and departures from the original designs, when it’s part of a large collection, nothing looks as great as a full set of mission patches.
Fun Fact 2: The Wordless Patch
The Apollo 11 patch is one of two with no names on it; the other is Apollo 13’s. The idea was that the first lunar landing belonged to everyone, not just the crew. The Eagle symbolizes both the United States and the Lunar Module and the olive branch is there as a symbol of peace.