I was recently in Prague to speak at a technology conference about the future of space exploration. Just as I was deboarding the plane on the cold windy tarmac, I noticed it. The NASA meatball plastered on the front of the baggage tram. It caught me off guard at first. I’ve seen the meatball in a lot of places, but I wasn’t expecting it that day.
Wait, what did you say about a meatball?
Maybe a little context will help. The NASA logo is affectionately called the “meatball”. In the “meatball” design, the sphere represents a planet, the stars represent space, the red chevron is a wing representing aeronautics (the latest design in hypersonic wings at the time the logo was developed), and then there is an orbiting spacecraft going around the wing. The insignia wasn’t actually called the meatball until 1975, when NASA temporarily switched to a more modern logo (now vintage) known as the “worm” (look that one up). The NASA logo doesn’t have any affiliation with cooked meat in the shape of balls. That type of meatball has been around a lot longer, first used in a receipt dating to 1877, but I digress.
When you see the NASA meatball – whether it’s on someone’s computer, embroidered on a jacket, or stuck to a moving vehicle (either here on Earth, or in space if you are one of the lucky 557 who have actually been to space), what do you think about? Likely what comes to mind is something like this – an astronaut floating in space, the iconic “earthrise” image, or maybe a rover on Mars. The meatball reminds us that we all have an innate curiosity deep within us that drives us to explore new and unknown frontiers. This curiosity is the essence of the human spirit. Exploration is about pressing the limits of human innovation, no matter what our field or discipline. For some, the meatball reminds us what it’s like to see Earth from space – that orbital perspective. It’s the feeling you get when you are able to see the world without borders and realize that our problems overlap and that the solutions are not one nation’s alone. For others, it’s a simple reminder that we are called to participate in something bigger – to solve the grand challenges of our time. Apollo 14 Astronaut Edgar Mitchell summarized the feeling well:
You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it.
So today, as you go about your business, consider what it might be like if you experienced this orbital perspective first hand – if you were looking back on Earth from space. What if you took a step back, shifted your perspective, and approached things a little differently? You undoubtedly stand at a pivotal moment in your career, so let today be that reminder you needed to continue to reach for new heights and reveal the unknown for the benefit of all humankind.