Like many individuals from his generation, Timothy Gagnon had been fascinated with space exploration since watching the first grainy black and white images of the Apollo missions on TV as a child. For his sixteenth birthday in 1972, Gagnon was given the opportunity to attend the launch of Apollo 17 at Cape Canaveral in Florida.
Soon afterward, in the spring of 1973, he read an article in Analog Science Fiction & Fact entitled "Skylab Patchwork", written by space artist Frank Kelly Freas, about the process of creating the mission patch for Skylab 1. Tim was inspired to try to use his artistic talents and capabilities to contribute to the American space program.
Gagnon acted on his dream, and began submitting unsolicited designs for mission patch consideration. Although, over a period of many years his numerous submissions were not accepted, astronauts Tom Stafford and Bob Crippen responded personally to his designs and encouraged the young artist to continue to pursue his goal. Gagnon then reached out to the artist who was currently commissioned to create mission patches for NASA, Robert McCall.
Robert McCall was described by author Isaac Asimov as the "nearest thing we have to an artist-in-residence in outer space," and had designed the mission patch for the first shuttle mission, STS-1. He responded to Tim Gagnon’s letter as follows:
Sept. 2, 1982
To achieve success --
- Evaluate your talents honestly
- Set your goals realistically
- Work tirelessly at your art and love every minute of your work.
- Study the great art of the past.
- Come back from inevitable failures and disappointments with courage.
- Work relentlessly.
The best of good fortune to you.
Sincerely, Robert McCall
Bolstered by the encouragement, Gagnon persisted toward his dream of creating a NASA mission patch and continued to submit designs. Finally, nearly twenty years after his first submission, astronaut John Philips selected him to design the emblem for the Expedition 21 mission to the International Space Station in 2004.
Alongside astronaut Tom Marshburn, Gagnon went on to create patches for numerous other missions, including Expedition 22, Expedition 23, STS-129, STS-132, Expedition 25, Expedition 26, Expedition 27, STS-133, Expedition 29 and Expedition 30.
The greatest assignment to reach Gagnon's desk was the patch design for STS-133, originally assigned to Robert McCall. McCall had been tasked with designing the patch for STS-133, at that time the final scheduled flight for the space shuttle transportation program. McCall was unable to finish the mission patch before his death in 2010 at the age of 90, and so the responsibility passed into the hands of Timothy Gagnon.
Robert McCall's sketches and concept drawings for STS-133 were sent to Gagnon for completion. Gagnon said "it was like receiving a blueprint for the Mona Lisa." Adhering to McCall’s original concept, Gagnon, working with Jorge Cartes, completed the design for the mission insignia. While doing so, they left a thumbprint of their own. Within the red and orange exhaust plume are the letters T and J: Timothy Gagnon and Jorge Cartes.
Timothy Gagnon happily lives twelve miles from Kennedy Space Center’s launch pad. Even after the cessation of the space shuttle program, he continues to be inspired by space exploration and shares his passion with countless children through his local Young Astronaut Program.