Pretty sure NROL-38 is a Pokemon
December 15, 2014 2:18 PM   Subscribe

Sultry witches. World-devouring cephalopods. Adorable teddy bears. Smithsonian Magazine takes a look at the fantastical mission patches of the National Reconnaissance Office (via)
posted by prize bull octorok (18 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
If only Freud had lived to see these. Oh man.
posted by GuyZero at 2:24 PM on December 15, 2014

I can't even begin to describe how bad I've always wanted NROL-39. But then, I think worshiping the Kraken is kinda cool.

(Although the Latin "Melior Diabolus Quem Scies" from SLC-6 is pretty awesome too; "Better the Devil You Know")
posted by quin at 2:29 PM on December 15, 2014

That Great Bear one is less "Spy" and more "Kawaii". I'll just show myself out.
posted by Going To Maine at 2:34 PM on December 15, 2014

> If only Freud had lived to see these. Oh man.

158-Year-Old Austrian Selfishly Hoards Secret of Eternal Life
Terrifying Lich-Thing Offers Opinion on Spy Ephemera
posted by theodolite at 3:02 PM on December 15, 2014 [10 favorites]

I don't think psyops means what they think it means, but some intereptations of black project patches including "All Your Base". Other patches described. I think it is probably safer to say that both patch traditions are heavily influenced by US military tradition.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 3:20 PM on December 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

These are the Easter Eggs of an empire.
posted by Apocryphon at 3:23 PM on December 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Ah, I really should have pointed here for the Air Force which is a weaker page except it has this PDF describing the design spec for Air Force heraldry which is pretty cool.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 3:24 PM on December 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think it's safe to publicly say that there are a lot of geeks and nerds in Defense. When things are secret, you get to be a lot funnier about naming and such. They're not trolling, they're just having fun.
posted by corb at 3:36 PM on December 15, 2014

Great Bear or Greatest Bear?
posted by Slackermagee at 3:49 PM on December 15, 2014

"Death Wears Bunny Slippers" is still the best (or worst).
posted by ymgve at 3:53 PM on December 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

I thought this post was patch notes from some fantasy game. Still good.
posted by lalunamel at 4:23 PM on December 15, 2014

Whoa, the super-rare uh... White-Eyes Blue Dragon! Suck it, Kaiba.
posted by xedrik at 5:09 PM on December 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think if you were really committed to secrecy here, you would omit patches entirely, or else use some sort of graphical rainbow code to avoid leaking information.

Thinking about launching satellites, that's probably really hard to actually keep secret from truly concerned parties, like military forces around the world. Once they are up in space, I would think that a satellite would not be too hard to keep tabs on, and it would also be hard to conceal the purpose of any particular satellite, since it's just out there in space.
posted by rustcrumb at 5:24 PM on December 15, 2014

I think that's mostly true, but I remember reading once of a U.S. spy satellite launch that concealed a second, smaller spy satellite that was small enough to be hard to notice when it separated and flew off on a different trajectory, where it spent years flying close to other satellites in geosynchronous orbit and spying on them. It can't have been too secret, though, because it's known now.
posted by traveler_ at 5:50 PM on December 15, 2014

Considering we the public paid for these and yet are not even technically allowed to see them....

This is one of those cases where I have nothing positive to say about these patches. Any sense of joy I might have in their design is eradicated by my disgust at the secrecy of the people who made them. And if I can't say anything nice....
posted by JHarris at 5:54 PM on December 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

It's not just enemy surveillance servces who keep a close eye on covert satellites - there's also a small network of amateurs who track objects that are best understood as spy sats and share their findings with the general satellite observing communities. As pointed out, it's rather difficult to keep something completely secret if you have to launch it on a giant rocket and leave it suspended in Earth orbit.

But they suspect that later models have the ability to cloak themselves - not so difficult if you can re-orientate the satellite to put solar panels, antennas or the like edge-on to observers, or are able to retract large components. You don't need Romulan tech. The observers and also think that this may be going on whenever the satellites are overhead amateur observer locations. Which, as they're not secret themselves, is quite a seductive thought.
posted by Devonian at 7:21 PM on December 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Trevor Paglan's I Could Tell You but Then You Would Have to Be Destroyed by Me is a book of nothing but amazing black ops patches, some real, some reproductions of descriptions from insiders. Some are sinister, some are cryptic, and some are hilarious.
posted by thecjm at 7:29 PM on December 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

I think it is probably safer to say that both patch traditions are heavily influenced by US military tradition.

Note that the first astronauts, who created the first mission patches, were to a man serving military officers.

So, the mission patch directly comes from the US/Soviet tradition of wearing a shoulder patch designating your unit, indeed, it appears the very first mission patch was Soviet, the combined Vostok 5/6 patch first worn by Valentina Tereshkova on the Vostok 6 flight.

Patches for US missions started with Gemini 5, after NASA banned the naming of capsules when Gus Grissom wanted to name his Gemini 3 capsule "Molly Brown" after "The Unsinkable Molly Brown." NASA said A) No. and B) No, don't come up with another name, your callsign is Gemini 3.*

After the Apollo 1 fire, embroidered badges on flight suits were banned. Flown Apollo mission patches are silkscreened images on Beta Cloth. They are by far the most rare versions -- everything else used normal embroidered cloth, only actual flight gear and backups used the silkscreened variant.

* NASA had to reverse this when the Apollo Lunar Missions happened with both CSM and LEM. When mated, the craft was simply "Apollo X", but when they were apart, each craft needed a callsign. NASA relented and allowed the crews to choose.
posted by eriko at 9:28 AM on December 16, 2014

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