The 12 patches of Christmas: 'KSC Artist' shares his favorite spaceflight designs of 2023

a man in glasses stands beside a painting of two women in spacesuits
Tim Gagnon at Spacefest in 2019. (Image credit: Dave Ginsberg)

We've seen the 12 days of Christmas taken in many different directions and versions, but for those with a passion for space, let's sing along to the "12 Space Patches of Christmas" designed by an artist to the "stars," Tim Gagnon.

Before we begin, if you haven't heard of the "KSC artist," allow us to introduce you to an important contributor to both the space community and history. Tim is an East Hartford, Connecticut native, and like so many of us, his love for space began at an early age and during one of the most exciting periods of exploration. "I remember watching the missions of my childhood heroes on a small black and white television with "rabbit ears" that could receive few broadcast stations," Gagnon recalls on his website. 

"For my 16th birthday gift in 1972 my parents arranged for Dad and me to attend the launch of Apollo 17 as invited guests of NASA." Within the next decade, he picked up a paintbrush to bring to life a painting of Apollo 13 astronaut Jack Swigert and began scrapbooking for his daughter and niece a collection of female astronauts. "The first response for contributions arrived on Saturday, Jan. 25, 1986. The package contained a handwritten note, an autographed photo as well as other photos," Gagnon also shared on his website. "The note read in part, "... you can do anything you want if you get a good education." It was signed by  NASA astronaut Judy Resnik. Three days later Judy Resnik was dead. Stunned by the Challenger tragedy, I decided that the message in that letter should not die with her."

Related: Chickasaw astronaut 'signs' patches for Native American girls' Space Camp fund

Since then, Tim began volunteering with the Young Astronaut Program, and created memorable paintings that have been on display in the Center for Space Education, City Hall of Elmira, New York, and the IMAX Theater at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex to name a few. But while this talented painter wove together colors on a canvas, in his mind was also stitched another big dream — to create a patch for a flight crew. 

"Ever since reading about the design of the Skylab 1 patch in an article written by the artist Frank Kelly Freas in 1973, I dreamed about creating a patch for a flight crew, to use my artistic talent to contribute to the space program," Gagnon recalled on his website. "I came close in 1985 when Bob Crippen invited me to submit designs for the first space shuttle mission scheduled to launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, STS‑62A. That mission was canceled after the Challenger accident."

But in an inspiring story to those who believe the best is yet to come and those moments are worth waiting for, in 2004 Tim fulfilled his destiny being selected by astronaut John Phillips to dream up the patch design for the Expedition 11 mission to the International Space Station

Expedition 11 patch. (Image credit: Tim Gagnon)

His work was so well received it led to more design assignments teaming up with another passionate space enthusiast and pen pal Dr. Jorge Cartes of Madrid, Spain, for both Space Shuttle Program and International Space Station crews since 2007. "Perseverance is what made my dream possible," Tim told when asked what advice he has for others with dreams as big as the galaxy. "If I can do it having quit college, having never gone to art school, and all the other obstacles I've put in my own way, if I can do this then they can do anything."

Now as we wind down 2023 with the holidays well in full swing, it's time to present the "12 Space Patches of Christmas," which to collectors near and far, I'm sure are worth much more than a plain old golden ring! Tim shares his favorite 12 of the year, so let's get in the spirit with a little rhyme. Enjoy the history and symbolism included in each one, commemorating many moments in time.

12. Virginia Space Flight Academy 25th Anniversary 

The history of the Virginia Space Flight Academy mirrors the history of the ISS with first element launch in 1998. The sun shines brightly through the solar array with one sun beam reaching to Virginia; the seven stars pay tribute to the beginning of the US human space program as the Space Task Group was located at Langley; the "commercial crew" star launches from Wallops Island symbolizing all launches from there and the burgeoning commercial space industry; the three ships that will be ghost stitched as an "Easter egg" in the bottom represent the Susan Constant, Godspeed and Discovery that landed at Jamestown.  (Image credit: Tim Gagnon)

For a non-profit in Virginia, it's a silver anniversary and this year. Offering Summer Adventure Camps and an online STEM Academy, it's sure to bring so many kids cheer. The history of Virginia is captured within this patch, highlighting launches from Wallops Island to when the US space program and ISS element launch got its start, to ships landing at Jamestown…this is a patch that's dear to a Virginian's heart! 

11. SPACECOM /49TH Space Congress

Left side: SPACECOM Top: Our "rocket logo" from previous Space Congress graphic (the "A" in "ORLANDO.") Right side: 49th SPACE CONGRESS Bottom: OFF-PLANET FOR THE PLANET  (Image credit: Tim Gagnon)

If you've wanted to see the view of Earth from space, than this patch is for you! North America and the "Space Coast" seem to sparkle below, with the ISS almost playing peek-a-boo! You can see how Tim gives us a front window seat, bringing in sunlight to add to the view, the client didn't want to use it for a patch so it lives now still for print and online, woohoo!

10. Tulsa Air and Space Museum Runway Run "Launching Ladies Since 1983"

"Launching Ladies Since 1983" patch for Tulsa Air and Spaced Museum Runway Run. (Image credit: Tim Gagnon)

For the leading ladies of space, this patch celebrates you! A space shuttle in the middle, plus you see the Canadarm holds on to a dreamcatcher as another shuttle flies through! The theme behind this patch was for Sally Ride's anniversary, but the best part for all the run participants — you could also get this design on a commemorative tee!

9. Shades of Blue Airline Symposium 

Shades of Blue Airline Symposium patch design showing the space shuttle and several aircraft in flight. (Image credit: Tim Gagnon)

This symposium helps recruit for airlines, starting as early as kids in school. So they needed a patch to go with it, to give those interested some swag that's pretty cool! The design highlights aviation, both for commercial and military alike. And then also adds in the trifecta — including it in spaceflight. 

8. National Astronaut Day 2023

National Astronaut Day 2023 patch design. (Image credit: Tim Gagnon)

Each year on May 5, we celebrate "National Astronaut Day," remembering the first American in Space, Alan Shepard, whose flight truly paved the way. This year also honors the 40th anniversary of when the Sally Ride, the first American Woman, soared through space, and to honor the inaugural Mercury crew and STS-7, the gold "7" has also a special place. 

7. America's First Women Astronauts

A tribute to the original six U.S. women astronauts: Sally K. Ride, Judith A. Resnik, Kathryn D. Sullivan, Anna L. Fisher, Margaret Rhea Seddon and Shannon W. Lucid. In 2023, Gagnon licensed NASA's official patch company A-B Emblem of North Carolina to make and sell an updated version of the patch with the design of the figure on the left tweaked to depict Judy Resnik. An astronaut pin design shows "a trio of trajectories merging in infinite space, capped by a bright shining star and encircled by an elliptical wreath denoting orbital flight." (Image credit: Tim Gagnon)

Upon this patch you see the last names of the original six ladies of spaceflight. The first U.S. female astronauts who all were shuttle program mission specialists, with three of them consulting on this design so positive and bright! The left side of the woman honors Judy Resnik, as she wrote to Tim's daughter before on Challenger in 1986, you can also see the female symbol included, with below the Shuttle Orbiter, the artist's monogram in ghost stitch. 

6. Moon Pioneers: Mission One

This patch includes the logo of the Midland International Air and Space Port and Space Nation. The background is the Flag of Texas colors. (Image credit: Tim Gagnon)

As we are in the Artemis generation, a patch to highlight the moon is featured here! It was created for a Moon Pioneers mission, commemorating teamwork and exploring the surface way up there!

5. Outpost Mission One

Outpost Mission One patch. (Image credit: Tim Gagnon)

Welcome to the "space frontier," the theme for the company that wanted this patch! A nod to the founder with a West Coast beach, and a street sign where their offices are at. It features Outpost's satellite in flight, the slogan and mission motto highlighted too. All to commemorate the inaugural mission, and celebrate everything they are trying to do!

4. LSI Educators

The typical NASA patch size is 4 inches, but this design is two 4 inch circles offset so the patch size would be no larger than 5 inches high and wide. The STEAM icons represent the following disciplines: (outer area first) astronomy, aviation, biology, chemistry, computer, engineering, math, medical. (inner area) meteorology, music, reading, robotics, rocketry, satellite, science. (Image credit: Tim Gagnon)

Limitless Space Institute, this was a special design for you! It's all about studies in STEAM fields, and as a meteorologist, I'd proudly wear this patch on a mission too! If you look closely, you can see all the icons of many various areas as careers we can explore. And in the center its starship "Enterprise" staying on course toward being a star! 

3. Kellie Gerardi: "Not Even the Sky is a Limit"

The personal patch designed for Kellie Gerardi. The motto is her message to not only her daughter, but every woman in STEM careers who share this dream.  (Image credit: Tim Gagnon)

The personal patch for Kellie Gerardi, worn accomplishing her dream of being a science researcher in space! You can see her silhouette gliding above Earth through the galaxy, "reaching for her star" in just the perfect place! If you take a look behind her, a group of tiny stars in honor of the women who soared before. The patch contains her motto to inspire others, in hopes after her in space there will be so many more!

2. Fred Haise 90th Birthday Celebration 

Fred Haise 90th Birthday Celebration patch. (Image credit: Tim Gagnon)

Every year we celebrate another trip around the sun. So how about with your own personally designed patch? I'm sure for Tim this one was fun! Happy 90th Birthday to former U.S. astronaut, Fred Haise from Apollo 13. There's a lot of symbols in here to be seen! There are nods to his home of Biloxi, a replica of his shuttle and F-86D jet. Stars to represent his Group 5 astronaut classmates, and for the Society of Experimental Test Pilots emblem front and center, the "X".

1. SwissApollo 15th Anniversary 

SwissApollo 15th Anniversary patch. (Image credit: Tim Gagnon)

And last, but certainly not least, another celebration to design and bring to light! Highlighting spaceflight goals and dreams from Switzerland, with a spacecraft en route to the moon in flight. There are 15 rays of sun, marking the 15th anniversary for the company next year. 12 stars for each of their men who walked on the moon as Apollo looks forward to the success to come in the future from there!  

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Meredith Garofalo
Contributing Writer

Meredith is a regional Murrow award-winning Certified Broadcast Meteorologist and science/space correspondent. She most recently was a Freelance Meteorologist for NY 1 in New York City & the 19 First Alert Weather Team in Cleveland. A self-described "Rocket Girl," Meredith's personal and professional work has drawn recognition over the last decade, including the inaugural Valparaiso University Alumni Association First Decade Achievement Award, two special reports in News 12's Climate Special "Saving Our Shores" that won a Regional Edward R. Murrow Award, multiple Fair Media Council Folio & Press Club of Long Island awards for meteorology & reporting, and a Long Island Business News & NYC TV Week "40 Under 40" Award.