In this week’s Patch Us In, ESA’s Carl Walker investigates the PromISSe patch as worn by astronaut André Kuipers from the Netherlands…



Dutch ESA astronaut André Kuipers flew to the International Space Station (ISS) in December 2011 on Soyuz TMA-03M. He was part of the Expedition 30/31 crew, with Oleg Kononenko and Don Pettit. His mission was called ‘PromISSe’ and the patch was an important one; it was the first ESA mission patch made commercially available to the public.


Previously, ESA patches had been made in limited numbers for public relations events and funded by mission budgets – which meant that they could not be sold as souvenirs. Occasionally they could be obtained by collectors, but compared to NASA’s patches which were produced by a commercial contractor and distributed in much larger numbers, our patches were seen as quite rare.


By licensing our patch providers we were able to produce enough patches to satisfy the demand from the wider public rather than just a lucky few collectors. Why wasn’t this done before? It seems obvious now, but it took a space patch collector working at ESA to gauge public interest and take up the challenge to improve the process.


Since then, ESA has never looked back. That’s why I’m proud of the PromISSe patch. Because of the work we put in to finalise these agreements with our legal team, now almost every other ESA mission or project patch has been released to the public in the same way. (The only exceptions are Volare and Futura, which were ordered under different agreements with the Italian Air Force and the Italian space agency, ASI.)


But back to the ‘PromISSe’ patch. Its story starts with the name. A competition was launched by ESA in June 2011 for the public to propose a name for André’s mission. More than 200 proposals were received from a wide range of people, the youngest being a 13-year-old Italian and the oldest an 82-year-old Dutch person. Although some entries came from Slovenia, Australia, India, Mexico and Argentina, understandably, the majority came from the Netherlands.


The winning name came from Dutch national Wim Holwerda, who explained that ‘PromISSe’ stood for ‘Programme for Research in Orbit Maximising the Inspiration from the Space Station for Europe’. Wim believed that the name symbolised the promise of space exploration for the future of our planet and humankind – as well as the role Europe can play in it.


Although it wasn’t a requirement to fit the acronym ISS in the name – as had been the case on earlier missions – the chosen name did. André said, “The name was the result of a contest and I did not have a say in it, as far as I can recall. But I liked the name PromISSe. It was positive and was in the tradition of fitting ISS in the mission name.”


As an interesting aside, another proposal for the mission name came from an idea that André suggested himself : De Nachtwacht (The Night Watch) – after the famous painting by renowned Dutch artist Rembrandt. The link with the mission was that André would be testing a new piece of kit for taking photos of Earth at night and he’d noted that he wanted the elements of day and night included in the patch. It’s interesting to imagine a patch possibly featuring parts of that 1642 Dutch Golden Age painting by Rembrandt…


With the name in place, Dutch designer Karen Oldenburg at ESTEC was given the task of coming up with the artwork. Karen said, “This was my second patch project, and there was a bit of pressure as we only had a couple of weeks before the patches were needed to be sent up.”


Karen’s final proposals retained the theme of day and night. But an approval team – including ESA’s Head of Human Spaceflight at the time, astronaut Thomas Reiter – specified that they wanted the mission’s three main elements represented: science, technology and education. Karen added a globe to symbolise a knowledge-based society focused on our planet, an electronic circuit to denote technology and a conical flask representing scientific research.


The completed design shows a planet free of national borders with a silhouette of the ISS circling Earth, moving from night to day and about to fly over Europe. The name ‘PromISSe’ sits in a circular band of blue with orange borders. The ‘ISS’ part of the name is also in orange to highlight the Dutch participation in the mission. The six stars are similar to those on the EU flag and represent the crew members and the six months that André would stay in space. André said, “I wanted the colour orange in there for the Netherlands, as well as indications of what the mission was about, so that aspect pleased me.”


While the design completed the approval process, a production company was sourced. Earlier patches had been made in several countries by different companies, but for this mission, we required a Dutch business to manage a retail website in both Dutch and English to cope with the predicted high demand from both national and international customers. As the first ESA patch to reach a wider market, a consistent high quality was crucial. was selected and the rest is, as they say, patch history…


You can buy the PromISSe patch from here and you can also get dedicated ESA mission patches from the ESA online shop here.


See more from Carl Walker at @spacemanfellow




Picture credits

All pics courtesy of ESA.