What's in a Logo?

May 18, 2020

By David Dezell Turner, Lucy Asteroid Ambassador

David Dezell Turner

Logos are important, even for NASA’s scientific endeavors. In fact, in 1976 NASA created the NASA Graphics Standards Manual, a handbook detailing strict design rules including acceptable fonts and the exact shade of red to use. Though NASA’s aesthetic choices and regulations have evolved since then, each mission still takes great care to design itself a proper logo. Such was the case for the Lucy Mission, which needed an insignia that would capture the adventurous spirit of a mission to the Trojan asteroids, a part of the Solar System that currently lies unexplored.

Dr. Marchi’s then seven-year-old son made his own designs for the mission logo. Photo Credit: Simone Marchi

Dr. Simone Marchi, who also serves as the mission’s Deputy Project Scientist, took it upon himself to design the logo. After brainstorming ideas with Principal Investigator Dr. Hal Levison, he began sketching the mission’s insignia with his then seven-year-old son. 

One of his earliest design decisions was to include a clever homage to the song from which the mission, indirectly, inherited its name, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” (The Lucy mission was named in honor of the fossilized human ancestor discovered in Ethiopia in 1974, and the Lucy fossil was named in honor of the Beatles’ song.) “I settled right away on the diamond outline, I figured that was a subtle way to have a reference to the Beatles song without making it too obvious,” Marchi explained. One of his earlier designs had the faces of the diamond outlined by rays from a far-off Sun, but Marchi ultimately decided against this since the design would be too complicated to be clearly visible on small pins. Also, if the colorful combination of the dark blue star field and the red text looks familiar, it’s probably because it hearkens back to the blue star field and red chevron of NASA’s classic “meatball” insignia.

One of Dr. Marchi’s earlier designs for the mission logo, featuring solar rays outlining the diamond’s faces. Credit: Simone Marchi

“Then, I added the other elements,” Marchi continued. “A spacecraft, with the distinctive solar panels shape. Then, asteroids.” While the asteroids represent all seven of the asteroids Lucy will visit (or technically eight asteroids, as we now know Eurybates has a satellite), Marchi’s drawing specifically depicts Patroclus and Menoetius, a binary pair. Normally, asteroids are so far apart that if you were standing on one, your unaided eye would be unable to see a single asteroid in the sky. If you were standing on Patroclus, however, it would be difficult to miss Menoetius, as Menoetius would appear roughly 10x the size of a full moon!

Lastly, Marchi included an image of Lucy the Australopithecus, which is not only the fossil for which the Lucy Mission is named, but also one of the most important discoveries in the history of anthropology. Just as the Lucy fossil shed light on the origins of humankind, the Lucy mission and the Trojan asteroids will shed light on the origins of our Solar System. For that reason, the Trojan asteroids are like rare gems — er, diamonds — in the sky.