It was an “obvious Star Trek knockoff,” one user wrote. “Boldly going where we’ve gone before,” quipped another. Even actor George Takei, who played Hikaru Sulu in the original series, joked that the franchise was “expecting some royalties from this. ”
But the new logo is really just a riff on the original U.S. Air Force Space Command emblem, which dates back decades. And among the people to point that out was Michael Okuda, a longtime Star Trek graphic designer who in the 1990s created the Starfleet Command logo for Paramount, which itself was derived from older designs.
“The arrowhead in the U.S. Space Force logo appears to be borrowed from the U.S. Air Force Space Command emblem, which has been in use since the 1980s,” Okuda, who has also designed emblems for NASA, wrote on Facebook.
“Arrowheads and swooshes and orbits and stars and planets have been used in space emblems long before either of these emblems,” he wrote. “For whatever it’s worth — and I do not own the intellectual property rights in most of my Star Trek work — I’m not offended by the similarities, nor would I accuse the Space Force of plagiarism. I’m just amused. It ain’t that serious.”
Indeed, neither Star Trek nor the U.S. government can claim pure originality when it comes to the design of their space emblems. If anything, they seem to have spent decades taking cues from each other.
The original “Star Trek” series, which debuted in 1966, appears to have drawn inspiration for the legendary Starfleet insignia worn by the show’s characters from early NASA emblems.
A 2018 post on the show’s official website says that Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry and producer Robert Justman based the insignia in part on NASA’s gold astronaut pins, which are awarded to astronauts who fly into space.
“The insignia worn on Starfleet uniforms is the equivalent of the badges worn by U.S. Service members — to show how they serve, not where they serve,” the post read, noting that Roddenberry and Justman had served in World War II. “In the 1960s, the Starfleet delta had far more in common with the golden pin awarded to a NASA astronaut than a simple mission patch, and it was intended to equal that proud emblem in both use and sentiment.”
The NASA pins, first awarded in 1963, feature “a trio of trajectories merging in infinite space, capped by a bright shining star and encircled by an elliptical wreath denoting orbital flight,” as described by NASA at the time. A similar shooting star appears in the Starfleet insignia.
NASA’s original seal, rolled out in 1959, also contains some of the same design elements. The red delta-like shape in the agency’s famed “meatball” logo represented an air foil, surrounded by white stars and a white orbital path. In the fictional Star Trek universe, the Starfleet insignia is meant to be a “direct descendant” of the logo, according to the Star Trek website.
The Pentagon’s space units make use of similar imagery.
When the U.S. Air Force created Space Command in 1982, Pentagon leaders had only a few months to create all the paraphernalia, according to a history on the Air Force’s website. So the final Space Command emblem ended up drawing heavily from the Air Force’s space operator’s badge, depicting a globe with two orbital ellipses, satellites, stars, and a delta.
According to the Air Force, the design was loaded with meaning. “The slight tapering of the orbital ellipses represents the characteristic eastward motion,” the Air Force’s history read. “The centrally superimposed deltoid symbolizes both the Air Force upward thrust into space and the launch vehicles needed to place all satellites in orbit. The distinctive dark blue background shading, small globe, and stars symbolize the space environment.”
That emblem was in use until December, when the Space Force became a its own branch.
In what may be the biggest testament to the artistic overlap between Star Trek and the government’s space efforts, NASA in the early 2000s hired Okuda, the Star Trek designer, to work on logos for a series of missions and programs.
Over several years, Okuda created program emblems for the Constellation, Ares, Orion and Altair programs, as well as the emblem for the final servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope. In 2009, NASA awarded him the agency’s public service medal for “exceptional contributions to the mission of NASA.”
His response on Friday to the new Space Force logo was lighthearted: “Well, they say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!”