Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Meatball or the Worm?

There's an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation titled “The Royale”, first aired in 1989, in which the U.S.S. Enterprise encounters a mysterious field of wreckage orbiting a distant planet. The starship's crew beams a chunk of the debris aboard, and determines that it's a fragment of the Charybdis, a vessel launched from Earth in 2037 and lost thereafter. it's easy enough to identify, because the fragment they take aboard displays two visible symbols: An American flag bearing 52 stars (putting it, they say, in the mid-21st century) and a logotype of four curvy letters reading N-A-S-A.

“The Royale” has been looping around the planet in reruns since it premiered. Richard D. James, the show's production designer, surely never imagined that his team was inadvertently setting up a big fat continuity error. But in 1992, just three years after the episode aired, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration dumped that sinuous logo and systematically began to strip it from buildings, documents, uniforms, and spacecraft, replacing it with an older insignia — nicknamed the Meatball — that the agency had retired nearly two decades before. It was a quixotically vigorous effort for something so symbolic, and the strange path that led there encounters the existential question graphic designers face: How important is what we do? And another question: How did the Meatball defeat the Worm?

by Christopher Bonanos, Standards Manual |  Read more:
Image: NASA