It was the 1960s. The space race between the USA and the Soviet Union was on, and both sides faced a small but significant problem: their astronauts couldn’t write notes in space. In zero-gravity, the ink wouldn’t flow out of their pens.
NASA’s top brains sprang into action. After many months of trial and error, and millions of dollars spent in research and development; they revealed the now-iconic Space Pen: a pen with a pressurized ink cartridge that would write in zero-gravity, upside-down if necessary.
Meanwhile, the Russians addressed the problem by using… pencils.
What a great story. It could only be better if it were true.
The Space Pen is certainly real, and world-famous, and parts of its origin story are true. NASA’s zero-gravity writing problem was real. Pencils, though? Bad solution. If a pencil lead were to break in zero gravity, it would send tiny specks of graphite floating around the cabin; each speck capable of causing a short-circuit. A pencil’s cedarwood casing might smell amazing, but it’s flammable – not what you want on a spaceship, especially after the fatal Apollo 1 fire.
Pencils weren’t overlooked; they were simply ruled out from the start.
So did NASA spend millions developing the Space Pen? They didn’t need to: it was already being developed by inventor Paul Fisher. Fisher had realized early on that astronauts would need a safe way to write in zero-gravity and was already developing the AG-7 “Anti-Gravity Space Pen”, later to become known as the Fisher Space Pen. It was Fisher, not NASA, who spent a million dollars of his own money perfecting a nitrogen-pressurized ink cartridge that forced ink out of the pen, and a new, thicker type of ink that would stay inside the cartridge until the pen’s ball-point was pressed down.
After the new Space Pen passed stringent NASA tests – able to write in a vacuum, in zero gravity, in +150°C heat or -120°C cold – Fisher sold the first pens to NASA, priced at a modest $2.95 each.
As for the Russians? They did use pencils – until 1968, when they switched to the Fisher Space Pen too.
Want to write with a piece of Space Race history? Click here to buy your own Fisher Space Pen (built to NASA specs) at Amazon. Each Space Pen is precision assembled in the USA, hand tested, and carries a lifetime guarantee against all manufacturing defects.
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