Remembering Cece Bibby, NASA's Mercury capsule artist (pictures)
The trailblazing artist who designed the insignia for the United States' first manned orbital spacecraft in 1962 and hand-painted it on the capsule, died yesterday at age 84.
Remembering Cecelia 'Cece' Bibby
Remembered as a pioneering female artist with a feisty sense of humor, Cecelia "Cece" Bibby, who designed the mission insignia and hand-painted the capsule for the United States' first manned orbital spacecraft in 1962, died yesterday. She was 84.
Bibby worked with three of the Mercury astronauts, hand-painting custom designed logos for astronaut John Glenn's "Friendship 7," Scott Carpenter's "Aurora 7," and Wally Schirra's "Sigma 7" Mercury capsules. Her designs were not only part of history making spaceflights, she also blazed a trail for women in the men-only world of NASA in the early 1960s, getting a front-row seat to history while becoming the first woman to work on a rocket gantry.
On February 20, 1962, at 9:47 a.m. ET, Glenn launched from Cape Canaveral's Launch Complex 14 to become the first American to orbit the Earth. In this image, John Glenn enters his Friendship 7 capsule with assistance from technicians to begin his historic flight.
Gus Grissom, the second American to fly in space after Allen Shepard, watched Bibby work on John Glenn's craft, and requested that she "paint a naked lady on the Boy Scout's capsule" as a sort of dare.
Grissom chided her, called her chicken, and playing along with the competitive nature of the NASA astronauts boys' club, Bibby drew the infamous "Naked Lady" and put it into the periscope view -- a design that Bibby was nearly fired for creating.
Bibby recounts the incident on her Web site: "When Al made his flight, there was a stencil cut for the name Freedom 7 and the name was sprayed onto the capsule. The same was true for Gus' Liberty Bell 7. I don't know who sprayed the names on the capsules. I do know that when John Glenn decided he wanted his Friendship 7 hand-painted on his capsule there was a good bit of 'joshing' that went on about it. Al and Gus made comments that a stencil wasn't good enough for John, that he had to have his name hand-painted by an artist.
"Gus told me later that he wished he'd have had an artist do his Liberty Bell. He said it really bugged him that someone else thought of it and he hadn't. Competitiveness.
"Also, behind the scenes, every now and then, John would give the other guys lectures about their behavior. He'd tell them they were role models and, as such, they should always keep that in mind. I don't know just how seriously the guys took these lectures, but I think they just kind of let it all go over their heads. However, Gus would sometimes refer to John as their 'Boy Scout.'"
Bibby goes on to say, "I should explain that because of my last name, some of the guys called me Cece Baby or Cece Bibby Baby. I'm not sure but I think some people thought my last name was Baby and not Bibby."
After the controversy caused by the "Naked Lady" design, Bibby drew this more modest creation for the periscope. The first launch was scrubbed, and this drawing was placed in Glenn's capsule for the next launch attempt -- which was successful and launched Glenn into Earth orbit on February 20, Bibby's birthday.
Bibby recalls, "She was a dumpy old lady in an old house dress. I think I had her wearing combat boots. Her hair was tied up in a scarf and she had a security badge attached to her dress. She had a mop in one hand and a bucket nearby. The bucket had 'Friendship 7' on it, in script like on the capsule. The caption on this was 'You were expecting someone else, John Baby?'"
President John F. Kennedy inspects the Mercury spacecraft, named Friendship 7, following the successful Mercury-Atlas 6 mission. Bibby's Friendship 7 logo can be seen, degraded because of the the high heat of atmospheric re-entry.
For the United States' second manned orbital flight, Scott Carpenter asked Bibby to design the mission insignia for Aurora. Colored rings depicted the Northern Lights, with jagged edged rings imitating the mystical movement of the Aurora Borealis.
This Aurora insignia was also an experiment to test different types and brands of paint to see which would survive the heat generated by re-entry of the Mercury spacecraft. Bibby said only the two "A's" and the symbolic ring portions of the design ended up surviving the mission.
On her Web site, Bibby recounts the Aurora 7 design. "I was an avid sports car enthusiast... having had a couple of MG-As, a TR-3, and one of the first Corvettes. I used to go to sports car races throughout the south, when time permitted. I would go to the sports car races at Sebring, Fla., and work on the timing crew. A friend of mine was the head timer for the Sebring races and he also worked for Pittsburgh Paint (I think it was Pittsburgh... been so long ago). Anyway, this friend asked about the paint I had used on John Glenn's flight and the paint test just sort of grew from there. I suggested a test on Scotty's flight. I obtained paint from my friend's company and someone got paint from the other two companies. I divided up the letters in Aurora... used one kind of paint on AU, another on RO and the third on RA."
After the "Naked Lady" prank, Scott Carpenter wanted Bibby to draw a naked lady for him. According to Bibby, Carpenter was a guitar player and one of his favorite songs of the time was "Yellow Bird," and he was known around NASA for constantly singing the song.
Wally Schirra had come to Bibby with the name "Sigma," which is a mathematical term meaning the "sum of" for the call sign of the spacecraft used in the Mercury-Atlas 8 mission. Schirra felt that these flights were the sum of all the engineering, designing, testing, and construction that encompassed the entire Mercury Project, and he wanted to honor all the people who contributed to the project.
Bibby recounts the Sigma 7 logo: "Sigma 7 was the third and final logo designed and applied by me. I moved to California and was not around to do Gordon Cooper's 'Faith 7.' As with the other logos, most of it was lost during re-entry."
Here we see Schirra inserted into the capsule prior to launch.
Bibby mocked up a few designs for Schirra to review for the Sigma 7 logo, and he felt the Greek symbol, frequently used in the engineering world, best represented his mission goals to make his flight a most precise flight.