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James Modarelli


Hall of Fame Plaque with Portrait.


James Modarelli began his career in 1949 as a technical illustrator. When the NACA was absorbed into the new space agency, NASA. A call was made to design its official seal. Modarelli designed the NASA Administrator’s seal, as well as the iconic and internationally recognized NASA insignia, affectionately known as the “meatball” logo. Additionally, he was the creator of NASA’s first exhibits program, laying a foundation for agency outreach and inspiring a generation through community engagement.


In 1949, after graduating from the Cleveland Institute of Art, James “Jim” Modarelli began his career as an artist-designer at the laboratory that would become the NASA Glenn Research Center. When the NACA was approved to be absorbed into the new space agency—NASA, employees were invited to submit designs for the agency’s logo. Modarelli, who was serving as the Management Services Division chief at the time, submitted the winning designs.

The official NASA seal and the less formal NASA “meatball” insignia are among the most recognized emblems in the world. The logos, which include symbols representing the space and aeronautics missions of NASA, became official in 1959. In July 1958, Modarelli participated in a tour at the Ames Unitary Plan Wind Tunnel, where he viewed a model of a radical supersonic airplane designed for flight at Mach 3.0. With a cambered, twisted arrow wing and an upturned nose, the model deeply impressed Modarelli. He later stylized the radical features of the arrow-wing configuration in his evolution of the NASA seal design; the wing would also become an element of the NASA insignia.

After NASA was formed, Modarelli briefly went to the new NASA Headquarters to serve as the exhibits chief and was charged with developing the agency’s exhibits program. He returned to the NASA Lewis Research Center in Cleveland in 1961, where he continued to serve as the Management Services Division Chief. He also cochaired the historic 1962 Space Fair at the Cleveland Public Auditorium and headed many special, one-of-a-kind events. These included the summer camp for pre-apprentice training classes for minority high school graduates, the NACA Inspections, and many employee morale activities such as the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) and the 100 Year Relay. James Modarelli retired in 1979 and passed away on September 27, 2002.

Related Documents


Three men standing.
Jim Modarelli and Frank Lalli (right) present Leo Kozar (center) with an Incentive Award (12/26/1956).
Two men operating projector.
Jim Modarelli presents an Incentive Award to photograph Arden Wilfong (3/18/1964).
Men seated at table.
Plain Dealer editor Tom Vail and Lewis Director Abe Silverstein award Modarelli and Irv Pinkel for work on the Space Science Fair (1963).
Two men kneeling to work on exhibit.
Jim Modarelli oversees exhibit construction for the Space Science Fair (1964).
Man holding award.
Jim Modarelli is recognized by the Middleburg Heights safety forces for his services (1972).
Man at desk in office.
James Modarelli, Chief of the Management Services Division, in his office in the Engine Research Building (1979).
Two men standing.
Former Director Abe Silverstein and Jim Modarelli at the latter’s retirement party in January 1979.
Man standing in front of NASA insignia.
James Modarelli at a ceremony reintroducing his “meatball” as the official NASA Logo (10/3/1997).