The Awesome, Terrifying Logos of America’s Spy Satellite Missions

12.06.13 Andy Cush

This week’s news that the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office’s latest spy mission has a giant Earth-devouring octopus for a logo inspired us to look into the history of N.R.O’s visuals. Turns out the fearsome cephalopod is only the tip of the iceberg.

The N.R.O., the existence of which was classified until 1992, over 30 years after it was established,works with both the U.S. Intelligence Community and the Department of Defense, providing “innovative overhead intelligence systems for national security,” according to its mission statement. In simpler terms, it operates spy satellites.


National Reconnaissance Office Launch 49, January 2011:  To celebrate its 50th anniversary, the NRO launches six satellites into space in 2010 and 2011. One of them, NROL-49, gets a black hawk rising from flames in front of the American flag for a logo. Its motto: melior diabolus quem scies, or “Better the devil you know.”

National Reconnaissance Launch 66, February 2011: One month after NROL-49, launch 66 took the devilish into goofier territory, featuring a satanic-looking minotaur flying over the Earth holding a modified Route 66 sign.

National Reconnaissance Office Launch 19, September 2003: NROL-19’s patch features the world’s most patriotic dragon clutching the globe with a diamond wrapped in its tail.

National Reconnaissance Office Launch 11, August 2000: This patch, featuring the eyes of what looks like an owl hovering over a darkened planet, could have used some cleaner design. Still, “We Own The Night” is an appropriately terrifying sentiment. Animals in space is beginning to feel like a theme.

National Reconnaissance Launch 38, June 2012: This three headed, world-destroying dragon is made only slightly less threatening by its latin motto, non morieris bello, which means something like “you will not die at war.” An alternate patch depicts the Egyptian god Anubis with a giant spear.

National Reconnaissance Office Launch 32, November 2010: The most illuminati-esque of the bunch, this terrible gradient-laden design puts an all-seeing eagle’s eye on top of a golden pyramid.

National Reconnaissance Launch 16, April 2005: The patch for NROL-16 may have marked the first time the U.S. government used a gorilla as a patriotic symbol.

National Reconnaissance Office Launch 10, December 2000: Last but not least, the “Great Bear” patch for NROL-10 is perhaps creepiest of all. What’s this jolly, star-covered guy doing as the symbol of a spy mission? We may never know.