The logo for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (commonly abbreviated to NASA) is one of the most recognizable in recent world history.
Whether on a blue or white background, the colored insignia has remained prominent for decades though has changed through different logos.
On official signage, printouts, and, of course, the space shuttles, you can expect to see that distinctive logo. But what font does NASA use?
In this guide, we will look at the background to NASA’s fonts, the font used in the NASA logo, and the font NASA uses for its typeface.
The Background To NASA’s Fonts
When the space race began in the Fifties, the Soviet Union and the United States of America were competing based on the development of their space programs.
On October 4th 1957, the Soviet Union launched their first space satellite known as Sputnik I.
The US response was swift and decisive when US Congress passed legislation on July 29th, 1958 to formally introduce the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, thus NASA was born.
At the very inception of NASA, it was without a logo, and employees of the space agency were asked to send in their suggestions.
The first nation to the moon won and eventually, NASA triumphed in 1969 when Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon’s surface.
The logo that featured for NASA used a specific font that was created by the logo’s creator, James Modarelli, though there are fonts that do come close to the one used.
However, NASA needed modernizing and in 1975, a new logo was created and that too has fonts that come close if you wanted to recreate it.
The font that NASA used as its typeface was also important as it would be used on patches and plaques to mark the space race.
For this they used Futura and you can see it applied in the patch for the very first successful mission to the moon which was Apollo 11 in 1969.
The inspiration for using Futura could have come from the advertising campaign for the film ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ though the font’s use is thought to have come decades before then.
The Font Used In The NASA Logo
There are essentially two different recognizable logos that NASA has used down the ages.
There is the modern logo which is known as the ‘worm’ while the ‘meatball’ is considered more old-school and dated.
Perhaps the more traditional NASA logo is the one most recognized for its role during the space race itself. This logo has a blue sphere featuring white stars and a red chevron across it.
The NASA logo is formalized in the center and is quite similar to a front known as ‘Bambi’.
This particular font uses prominent thick lines in its text, particularly across the N and S, as well as for the far line of the A.
Another font that comes close to the one used in this traditional logo is Priamos-Serial-Heavy Regular.
Again, those thick lines stand out and closely match the font used in that NASA logo.
The logo was a one-off creation designed as a hand-lettered graphic by James Modarelli, an agency employee in 1958.
Modarelli had graduated from the Cleveland Institute of Art in 1949 and started as an artist-designer at a laboratory that eventually became the NASA Glenn Research Center.
When the center was absorbed into the space agency that was NASA, employees were encouraged to send in their designs for the logo that NASA would use.
Modarelli created the ‘meatball’ in his spare time and was serving as NASA’s Chief of Management Services Division when his design won.
It took until 1959 for the logo to officially become the NASA seal and it eventually became one of the most easily recognizable emblems across the world.
Another font created on the back of the ‘meatball’ logo is one entitled ‘Space Meatball’.
Similar to Priamos-Serial-Heavy Regular, the font uses thick lines on one side of letters such as A, E, P, and V.
Letters such as C and S are also given prominence for the thickness of their curves.
The more modern logo is the one with stylized red text that curves and joins up which is, naturally, known as the ‘worm’.
The logo was introduced in 1975 and could be seen as a modern sans-serif letterform for its use of strokes and curves.
The style of this NASA logo is due to those continuous lines, particularly joining the A and S in the middle of the logo.
It was in 1974 that NASA set out to get a new, modern logo and commissioned the New York agency, Danne & Blackburn, to come up with it.
The ‘meatball’ logo was only 15 years old but these were changing times and the space agency required a more futuristic and precise logo.
That logo is well known globally for the heavy lettering and how both the A’s look like rocket nose cones.
The font for this modern logo is decidedly close to ‘Nasalization’ for the curves it features, though the A and the S do not join up.
The Font That NASA Uses For Its Typeface
As one of the most ubiquitous typefaces used globally, it may seem surprising that NASA chose to use Helvetica as its typeface when the logo was modernized in 1976.
Those sleek, professional lines and regimented curves do make sense when you consider the precision engineering that goes into creating a space shuttle and a rocket worthy of heading into space.
The font also looks great when used in large sizes for such logos as well as titles and signs.
Before Helvetica was adopted, NASA was keen to use Futura as its choice of font.
The uniform lines and curves brought a sense of formality and duty to the plaques and patches that marked the completion of the space race.
Such is the formality of the font that it still looks good to this day.
When you consider that there are essentially two different NASA logos then you can argue that there are two different fonts used to identify the space agency.
Those two logos include the ‘worm’ which was introduced in 1976 and is close to ‘Nasalization’ and can be seen as a sans-serif letterform.
The previous logo was known as the ‘meatball’ and was created by James Modarelli though the fonts Priamos-Serial-Heavy Regular and ‘Space Meatball’ come close to replicating it.
NASA has also used two different fonts as its own adopted typeface. This includes Futura which can be seen on the patch used for Apollo 11 in 1969.
NASA also adopted Helvetica as its default typeface in 1976 after the logo was also updated.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Is The NASA Font Copyrighted?
As you can expect from any image produced by any agency that forms part of the United States government, there are certain copyright laws at play.
That includes for the ‘worm’ logo, the ‘meatball’ logo, and the NASA seal which are all in the public domain.
Their usage is therefore restricted under the Code of Federal Regulations 14 CFR 1221.
When Did NASA Begin Using Helvetica As Its Default Typeface?
When NASA adopted the new logo designed by Danne & Blackburn in 1976, they also took on Helvetica as their new default typeface.
You can see this used in NASA’s publications, papers, and the labels used amongst their space shuttles.