Is the ‘worm’ going to Mars?

It was on screen for just a second. But there it was in red on white. During the coverage of space tourist Dennis Tito’s announcement to take a ship to Mars and back, the above graphic leapt out at me. Could the NASA ‘worm’ be coming back into service?

It was on screen for just a second. But there it was in red on white. During the coverage of space tourist Dennis Tito’s announcement to take a ship to Mars and back, the above graphic leapt out at me. Could the NASA ‘worm’ be coming back into service?

I’m a big fan of NASA’s ex-logotype (I would stitch it onto my pyjamas if I could), so I was more than a little excited to see this pumpkin-like rendered space craft bearing a reworking of the 1970s classic in the middle of Tito’s Inspiration Mars presentation.

While it said “MARS” not “NASA” that meant, on the plus side, two new letterforms! But while the “M” looked spot on, the “R”, well, I wasn’t entirely convinced by that tail (shouldn’t it link with the “S”? Too much?).

So I emailed Richard Danne who was design director of the NASA program in 1975. His partner Bruce Blackburn, at Danne & Blackburn, designed the logo (which incidentally came high in our April 2011 issue on the top 20 logos of all time, and will feature in a forthcoming expanded book version). Danne said he hadn’t seen the new Mars logotype, but found it “quite fascinating”.

He added that many other companies had been inspired by the logo after it was introduced in the mid-70s, such as the car manufacturer, Saturn. “Considering everything, this is about as good a ‘lift’ as I’ve seen,” he says of the Mars iteration. “And if ‘imitation is the most sincere form of flattery’ then this is well done and OK!”

I think he’s right, it does look great – just as the original NASA worm did in the late 70s and throughout the 80s, having replaced the ‘meatball‘ of 1959, you know, that “amateurish mess” (Michael Bierut) that was reawakened by NASA administrator Dan Goldin in 1992. The purpose of the worm in the first place was to give people something that looked like it belonged in the future.

And herein lies my worry. Tito’s mission may well be a billionaire-funded private enterprise; but it’s not a NASA operation, so the agency may have grounds to object to a spin-off of its design glories of the past.

We shall see if the space tourist’s plans work out and, indeed, if he is even able to use the logotype on his Mars mission. There are hints at potential involvement from the space agency on the Inspiration Mars website. If true, I’ll certainly be watching from 2018 onwards to see if the worm can make it out of the Earth’s atmosphere once again.

CR in print
The March issue of CR magazine celebrates 150 years of the London Underground. In it we introduce a new book by Mark Ovenden, which is the first study of all aspects of the tube’s design evolution; we ask Harry Beck authority, Ken Garland, what he makes of a new tube map concept by Mark Noad; we investigate the enduring appeal of Edward Johnston’s eponymous typeface; Michael Evamy reports on the design story of world-famous roundel; we look at the London Transport Museum’s new exhibition of 150 key posters from its archive; we explore the rich history of platform art, and also the Underground’s communications and advertising, past and present. Plus, we talk to London Transport Museum’s head of trading about TfL’s approach to brand licensing and merchandising. In Crit, Rick Poynor reviews Branding Terror, a book about terrorist logos, while Paul Belford looks at how a 1980 ad managed to do away with everything bar a product demo. Finally, Daniel Benneworth-Grey reflects on the merits on working home alone. Buy your copy here.

Please note, CR now has a limited presence on the newsstand at WH Smith high street stores (although it can still be found in WH Smith travel branches at train stations and airports). If you cannot find a copy of CR in your town, your WH Smith store or a local independent newsagent can order it for you. You can search for your nearest stockist here. Alternatively, call us on 020 7970 4878, or buy a copy direct from us. Based outside the UK? Simply call +44(0)207 970 4878 to find your nearest stockist. Better yet, subscribe to CR for a year here and save yourself almost 30% on the printed magazine.

CR for the iPad
Read in-depth features and analysis plus exclusive iPad-only content in the Creative Review iPad App. Longer, more in-depth features than we run on the blog, portfolios of great, full-screen images and hi-res video. If the blog is about news, comment and debate, the iPad is about inspiration, viewing and reading. As well as providing exclusive, iPad-only content, the app will also update with new content throughout each month.

More from CR

A most distinctive corporate typeface

Commissioned 100 years ago, Edward Johnston’s eponymous classic has become the longest serving and best-loved corporate typeface of all time. Gavin Lucas investigates the secrets of its enduring appeal

Open Studio Club’s Free Desk Here initiative

Free Desk Here is a new initiative by Open Studio Club that looks to encourage creative agencies to offer up a free desk space in their studio to a young creative (of their choosing) to come in and get on with their own work…

Bob Gill at Print Club London

Illustrator, graphic designer and former ad man, Bob Gill, has created six new hand coloured silkscreen prints at Print Club London’s Dalston print studio…

Artworker

NAO (National Audit Office)

Junior Designer

National Theatre