The Story of Tim Gagnon: Designing the Apollo reunion mission patch

The Story of Tim Gagnon: Designing the Apollo reunion mission patch

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 1 mission and to celebrate the reunion of the Apollo astronauts at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2017, EAA commissioned the creation of a mission patch similar to those affixed to the astronauts’ space suits on their respective journeys into space. The patch was designed by Tim Gagnon, the artist behind several of the mission patches for NASA’s space shuttle program, who has spent decades working to achieve his dreams.

It has been Tim’s nearly lifelong dream to create a mission patch for the Apollo program. He can trace his ambitions back to 1972 when he and his father were invited to attend the launch of Apollo 17 at Cape Canaveral, where Tim saw the Apollo 17 mission patch designed by veteran space artist Robert McCall.

Although 17 would be the last mission of the Apollo program, in 1973 Tim set out writing to astronauts and asking if he could design a patch for their missions. He said his first letter was to Vance Brand when it looked like he might fly a Skylab rescue mission, and at one point he wrote to Tom Stafford in hopes of designing a patch for Apollo-Soyuz.

“All the responses I got were very gracious, but by the time that they had heard from me they had already chosen another artist to work with,” Tim said. “And a lot of times that artist was Robert McCall.”

Even though this might discourage some, Tim was glad to be submitting designs alongside the very man who inspired him to create patch artwork in the first place.

“I had a mark to aim at, something to strive towards because his work was always beautiful,” he said. “I just kept at it until it worked.”

Tim persisted for quite some time, finally being chosen in 2004 as the mission patch artist for the Expedition 11 flight to the International Space Station — 31 years after he first threw his name in the hat. He has since designed patches for Expeditions 22, 23, 25, 26, 27, 29, 30, 34, One Year, 47, and 48, and for the Space Shuttle program’s STS-126, STS-129, STS-132, and STS-133. He also helped collaborate with the crew of STS-135, who had their own ideas for a mission patch.

“It doesn’t get much more awesome than that as you can imagine,” Tim said. “I have a lot of respect for artists that have gallery showings and put themselves out there for that type of work. … I can at least say that my gallery is orbiting the Earth at 17,500 miles an hour.”

This year, with the Apollo reunion at AirVenture, Tim was finally presented with the chance to design a mission patch for the program from which his inspiration originated. The patch, designed with the help of Dr. Jorge Cartes, who worked with Tim on a number of the ISS and STS patches, is unique in that it combines EAA’s style with several historical details from the Apollo program.

“The important thing is to do the research so that when it’s viewed, the people that are familiar with the program understand what we’re trying to convey,” Tim said.

The patch shows the Apollo spacecraft in lunar orbit above a crescent moon, encircled by the names of the Apollo crew members who are expected to attend EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2017: Frank Borman, Walt Cunningham, Dick Gordon, Fred Haise, Joe Engle, Al Worden, Buzz Aldrin, Gene Kranz, Jim Lovell, Jim McDivitt, and Harrison Schmitt. Kranz’s name appears in white as he served on mission control’s White Team while working to bring the crew of Apollo 13 safely home. The D in McDivitt’s name is a nod to the type of mission he flew. The Apollo program had a set of objectives, lettered A through J. On Apollo 9, McDivitt and his crew members flew the D mission: manned command and lunar module development in low-Earth orbit. Apollo 9’s original mission patch also featured a red D in McDivitt’s name.

Note: Jim McDivitt is no longer able to attend AirVenture 2017.

The final detail is the first L in Apollo. It stands out as the Roman numeral L for 50, colored in remembrance of the golden anniversary of Apollo 1.

Each of the Apollo astronauts attending this year’s reunion Friday, July 28, at Theater in the Woods will be presented with one of the commemorative patches, which will also be on sale to the public throughout the week of AirVenture 2017.

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Megan, EAA 1171719, is EAA’s staff writer, regularly contributing to both print and digital publications. She’s an aspiring pilot, a passionate aviation enthusiast, and an avid learner of just about everything. E-mail Megan at