What do the patches and pins that represent NASA's Constellation Program and its projects symbolize? Most of you have seen the crew patches, similar to the shoulder patches worn by members of the military units, that are used to identify each NASA mission.
Today, many of NASA's programs and projects have informally adopted emblems -- and make them into patches -- to build team pride and identification.
The Constellation emblem is intended to represent NASA's effort to continue exploration from Earth to the Moon, Mars and beyond. According to Constellation patch designer Mike Okuda, the three crescents represent these three worlds, in order of distance, and in order of the increasing challenges that must be overcome to reach them. He says the crescents might also suggest worlds illuminated by the light of knowledge.
The emblem's red vector suggests the outward direction of exploration, a symbol borrowed from the NASA agency insignia. Similarly, the dark blue background is deliberately suggests the NASA insignia. The 10 stars signify the 10 NASA centers working to return to the Moon.
Okuda says the outer equilateral triangle suggests simplicity and strength -- the extraordinary engineering efforts it will take to achieve Constellation's objectives.
The Orion crew exploration vehicle patch represents that project's efforts to develop an advanced spacecraft that will take astronauts to the International Space Station, the Moon, and someday to Mars and beyond. The patch also employs the equilateral frame, a unifying element in all of Constellation's patches. The blue sphere is represents Earth. The red flight path illustrates the first missions to the space station, but then it shoots outward to the three large stars, implying the Moon, Mars, and worlds beyond. Okuda says the three stars also evoke the belt in the constellation Orion, while the other 10 other stars, arranged to suggest the same constellation, represent NASA's 10 centers.
The Ares launch vehicles patch illustrates the sheer power needed for a spacecraft to escape Earth's gravity and reach for the stars. Okuda says the single bright star represents the launch vehicles, suggesting the dreams those vehicles will carry into the heavens. The light illuminates the crescent Earth, and once again, the 10 stars represent the NASA centers.
Okuda also designed the Altair lunar lander patch, which is based on the mission patch for the historic Apollo 11 moon landing. The eagle on the patch, of course, represents the United States. Eagle also was the name of the Apollo 11 Lunar Module, the first human-piloted spacecraft to land on the moon. To distinguish the project patch, the eagle faces in the opposite direction, since it represents humankind's return to the moon.
On the patch, the eagle carries an olive branch to represent peaceful exploration of space. The 10 stars are arranged to represent the constellation Aquila, or the eagle, of which the brightest star is Altair, translated as "the flying one." The "A" in the word "Altair" is based on NASA's original mission patch for Project Apollo. According to Okuda, engineers working on Altair asked the eagle's wing extend beyond the frame of the background triangle to signify their determination to use creative thinking to solve the many challenges they will face in such an ambitious effort.