The Making of the Apollo 11 Mission Patch

Following the tradition set by the crew of Gemini V, the Apollo 11 crew was given the task of designing its mission patch. Apollo 11 was, and still is, one of the most publicly recognized missions NASA has ever had.

Mission Operation’s Control Center Room during Apollo 11NASA

The eyes of the world were on Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, making the Apollo 11 patch not only be a symbol for the mission, but also a representation of the intentions of America, the hopes of NASA, and the astronauts themselves. With this daunting task in front of them, the astronauts set forth to create a design. 

The Apollo 11 Mission PatchNASA

After some discussion the crew decided to keep their names off the patch. Michael Collins explains: “We wanted to keep our three names off it because we wanted the design to be representative of everyone who had worked toward a lunar landing, and there were thousands who could take a proprietary interest in it, yet who would never see their names woven into the fabric of a patch. Further, we wanted the design to be symbolic rather than explicit.”

In addition to keeping the crew names off the patch, the decision to use the Arabic numerals “11” instead of “XI” or even “eleven” was extremely purposeful. Neil Armstrong particularly disliked spelling out the word “eleven” (as it was in Collin’s first design), because it wouldn’t be easily understandable to foreigners, so the crew decided on “11”.

Fellow astronaut Jim Lovell suggested the eagle, the national bird of the United States, as the focus of the patch. Running with that proposal, Michael Collins found a picture of an eagle in a National Geographic book about birds: "Water, Prey, and Game Birds of North America," and traced it using a piece of tissue paper. He then sketched in a field of craters beneath the eagle’s claws and the earth behind its wings. This preliminary design did not satisfy the crew. Armstrong and Collins believed that it did not represent all they wanted it to convey.

The olive branch was suggested by Tom Wilson, a computer expert and the Apollo 11 simulator instructor, as a symbol of the peaceful expedition. The crew was delighted with that notion and Collins quickly modified the sketch to have the eagle carrying the olive branch in its beak.

After making a few detail-oriented decisions, the patch was ready to be submitted. Highly realistic, the crater-pocked moon was colored grey, the eagle brown and white, the Earth blue, and the sky black (just as it would be from the lunar surface). The Earth, suspended like a small blue marble in a black sky, is actually incorrectly drawn. The patch shows the Earth to be shadowed on the left side, while the Earth, if viewed from the lunar surface, would be dark on the bottom. This mistake was never corrected.

However, the initial patch design was rejected. Bob Gilruth, the director of the then-named Manned Spacecraft Center, saw the eagle landing with its talons extended as too hostile and warlike. So, the olive branch was transferred from the eagle’s mouth to his talons, a less menacing position. Although happy with the design, Michael Collins maintained that the eagle looked “uncomfortable” in the new version and that he “hoped he dropped the olive branch before landing”.

The Final Design

The embroidered Apollo 11 patch was manufactured by A-B Emblems, a patch embroidery company started by E. Henry Conrad. A partner of NASA for previous missions, A-B Emblems became the sole contractor for all NASA patches in 1971.It was a common practice for the commander of each mission to fly a T-38 into the Asheville airport to help the designers achieve the vision of the crew. Once the graphic was approved, a drawing would be created of the design. The drawing would then be blown up, using scale rulers and enlarging cameras, to exactly six times the size of the patch. 

The enlargement would be marked with a pencil to show every embroidery stitch required for the final product. The sketch would then be fed into the punching machine, which would produce a roll of paper with punches for every stitch. As the final step before embroidery, the Swiss Embroidery Loom would be threaded and the punching roll is fed into it along with the cloth. After the machine (with the help of a human hand) was finished embroidering, the emblems were cut and given a triple-thread pearl stitch border in order to insure that it is ravel proof.

The embroidered patches are sewn onto flight suits, recovery suits, jackets, and any other official NASA gear for the mission. The spacesuits themselves did not have embroidered patches. Instead, the patch would be silkscreened directly onto the fabric along with the NASA logo and the American flag.

From the Moon to Mars

On July 20, 1987, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins signed a silk-screen patch flown aboard Apollo 11 and presented it to former NASA Administrator James C. Fletcher for safekeeping. The inscription of the patch reads: “Carried to the moon aboard Apollo XI, Presented to the Mars I Crew.”Looking forward into the future, it seemed only appropriate that a patch, which witnessed mankind’s first giant leap, should be there for its second.

Credits: Story

Original Author: Cat Baldwin

Summer 2016 NASA History Office Intern

Last Updated: Aug. 6, 2017
Editor: Yvette Smith

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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