The rocket launch of a device by the National Reconnaissance Office in 2011 came with a mission patch that included a prominent Route 66 reference.
Here’s the patch:
According to the NRO, the device was launched aboard an Orbital Sciences Corporation Minotaur I rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Feb. 6, 2011. The launch was called NROL-66.
Naturally, the secretive NRO didn’t explain what was on the rocket, nor the significance of the commemorative patch. But that didn’t keep Smithsonian magazine from making an educated guess or two:
Some speculated that the bull is the reference to the devil, because of 66’s affinity with 666. The red bull also could be a nod to the type of rocket used for the launch, called a Minotaur. NROL-66 was not actually a spy satellite mission, but a classified device launched to demonstrate new technology.
The 666 link to 66 is weak, except where old U.S. 666 once intersected with U.S. 66 in Gallup, New Mexico. The 666 road was changed to U.S. 491 about 10 years ago because road crews grew tired of replacing stolen signs. Plus there were quite a few people superstitious about 666 allegedly being the Antichrist’s number, though the actual reason the highway received that number was quite benign.
The minotaur theory, however, makes more sense. More about the minotaur legend may be read here.
The issuance of patches dates to the 1960s and NASA’s early days. Naturally, the NRO picked up this tradition with its rocket launches as well.
(Hat tip: Tim Steil)