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While watching the ORB3 Antares explosion press conference, I began to wonder about the design of the NASA logo.

Do the white stars on the blue background represent some particular stellar pattern, or is it an abstract design?

Also, what does the red elongated chevron represent?

NASA logo

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    $\begingroup$ I think that's Orion's belt above the orbit above the A, and just up and to the right are two stars in the right place to be Bellatrix and Betelguese. The bright one below the belt inside the orbit could be Rigel. But then it breaks down. I don't see what the ones are supposed to be. $\endgroup$ – Mark Adler Oct 29 '14 at 3:22
  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Aug 4 '17 at 15:40
  • $\begingroup$ great question! i was just looking this up! $\endgroup$ – fady Oct 14 '18 at 18:06
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According to Symbols of NASA:

From the wing of the space shuttle to the top of the NASA homepage, the agency's official insignia is probably its best-known symbol.

The round red, white and blue insignia, nicknamed the "meatball," was designed by employee James Modarelli in 1959, NASA's second year. The design incorporates references to different aspects of the mission of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The round shape of the insignia represents a planet. The stars represent space. The red v-shaped vector represents aeronautics. The circular orbit around the agency's name represents space travel.

And Wikipedia on NASA insignia adds that the red chevron is in the alternate shape of the constellation Andromeda.

As for constellations, they're highly stylized and not drawn to scale or apparent magnitude of stars and galaxies in constellations, but I'll go by what I recognize:

  • Top one is Orion (Hunter), left brightest star is Rigel. Notice the Three Kings in the Orion's Belt and the Orion Nebula (M42) in the Orion's Sword.
  • Bottom left one is Cygnus (Swan), the bottom brightest star is Deneb. Notice that it closely follows the shape of a swan in flight, albeit the apparent magnitude and position of other stars again seems rather random.
  • Bottom right one is a tricky one but might be the part of Andromeda with the Andromeda Galaxy, or the part of Lyra with Vega, or more likely - simply some randomly painted stars.

Otherwise, there is no exactly such constellations or a groups of stars in the night's sky that would follow the triangle that the three groups on the logo represent. They all appear to be constellations that would appear on the Northern hemisphere night skies at least during some parts of the year (Orion for example isn't always visible or is too low on horizon at times), but they certainly don't represent the Summer Triangle between Deneb in Cygnus, Vega in Lyra and Altair in Aquila. I'm fairly certain about the Orion and Cygnus, alas, I fail to clearly recognize the group of stars on the bottom right of the logo.

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  • $\begingroup$ I can the resemblance to Orion, but I'm thinking the design must be more artistic license than stellar map. $\endgroup$ – Jerard Puckett Oct 29 '14 at 14:26
  • $\begingroup$ The lower right constellation looks somewhat like Draco. $\endgroup$ – Tristan Oct 29 '14 at 16:01
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    $\begingroup$ @JerardPuckett There's definitely a lot of artistic license in the logo, the stars in constellations seem painted by memory more than following some stellar map. For one, Rigel is at the wrong side of the Orion's Belt w.r.t. the position of M42 below it. It's still the most recognizable one tho. Tristan - I've considered Draco but I don't recognize it or any part of it. My best guess is that the rightmost part of it is supposed to represent Lyra and the rest are a few more stars towards Cygnus. Maybe it's supposed to represent how an artist sees stars if they station him/her in some basement? $\endgroup$ – TildalWave Oct 29 '14 at 16:58
  • $\begingroup$ This answer just reinforces how terrible I am at seeing the shape of constellations. $\endgroup$ – Ellesedil Oct 29 '14 at 17:14
  • $\begingroup$ If you turn this image seasky.org/constellations/assets/images/draco.gif upside down, the resemblance to Draco works somewhat. $\endgroup$ – Tristan Nov 3 '14 at 23:02
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This article from the NASA History Program Office discusses the history of the NASA "meatball" logo. While not addressing a specific constellation, the red chevron represents aeronautics via an airfoil that was "the latest design in hypersonic wings at the time the logo was developed."

The last portion of the article has a very interesting discussion on the difficulties in printing the logo in black/white and color scanning it.

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  • $\begingroup$ The PDF linked at the bottom of that article goes into the subject in-depth. $\endgroup$ – Alex Hajnal Jan 4 '19 at 0:19
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the one on top is Orion. the lower left, looks like andromeda. the lower right i'd say draco.

Wich conspiracy theoricians would say are the constelations of the aliens we are allied with.

The vector means speed, and the round thingy is an infinite cycle, wich when you assemble the 2 ideas is space travel at faster than light speed.

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Orion on the top. Cygnus on the bottom left. Bottom right cannot be determined without a supercomputer.

Looking up into the sky from a planet not our own is what makes this alleged "artistic license" appear as such. The "meatball" logo is perhaps the largest pink elephant in the room of which there has been no real research to pinpoint exactly where in our cosmic backyard these stars appear as such.

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