Claim: NASA spent millions of dollars developing an "astronaut pen" that would work in outer space, while the Soviets solved the same problem much more quickly and easily by simply using pencils.
Ball-Point Pens for the Astronauts
When NASA started sending astronauts into space, they quickly Discovered that ball-point pens would not work in zero Gravity. To combat this problem, NASA scientists spent a Decade and $12 billion developing a pen that writes in zero Gravity, upside-down, on almost any surface including glass And at temperatures ranging from below freezing to over 300 C.
The Russians used a pencil.
Your taxes are due again — enjoy paying them.
[Collected on the Internet, 1999]
Thought for the day.
During the space race back in the 1960's, NASA was faced with a major problem. The astronaut needed a pen that would write in the vacuum of space. NASA went to work. At a cost of
The Russians were faced with the same dilemma.
They used a pencil.
[The Moscow Times, 2000]
There is a charming anecdote that roams from
As the story goes, the Americans spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on an ambitious, gravity-immune ballpoint pen; they successfully developed such a pen; and this pen went on to become a massive commercial success in the private sector. The Soviets — with the simple elegance their scientists are so rightly famed for — opted instead to use a pencil.
Origins: The lesson of the infamous "space pen" anecdote about NASA's spending a small fortune to develop a ballpoint pen that astronauts could use in outer space, while completely overlooking the simple and elegant solution adopted by the Soviet space program (give cosmonauts pencils instead), is a valid one: sometimes we expend a great deal of time, effort, and money to create a "high-tech" solution to a problem, when a perfectly good, cheap, and simple answer is right before our eyes.
As good a story and moral as that may be, however, this
Both U.S. astronauts and Soviet cosmonauts initially used pencils on space flights, but those writing instruments were not ideal: pencil tips can flake and break off, and having such objects floating around space capsules in near-zero gravity posed a potential harm to astronauts and equipment. (As well, after the fatal
When the solution of providing astronauts with a ballpoint pen that would work under weightless conditions and extreme temperatures came about, though, it wasn't because NASA had thrown hundreds of thousands of dollars (inflated to
This is how Fisher themselves described the development of their Space Pen:
Because of the fire in
- In a vacuum.
- With no gravity.
- In hot temperatures of +150°C in sunlight and also in the cold shadows of space where the temperatures drop to -120°C
Fisher spent over one million dollars in trying to perfect the ball point pen before he made his first successful pressurized pens in 1965. Samples were immediately sent to
Lead pencils were used on all Mercury and Gemini space flights and all Russian space flights prior to 1968. Fisher Space Pens are more dependable than lead pencils and cannot create the hazard of a broken piece of lead floating through the gravity-less atmosphere.
Paul Fisher continues to market his space pens as the writing instrument that went to the moon and has spun off this effort into a separate corporation, the Fisher Space Pen Co.:
Sightings: This legend was referenced in an episode of NBC's The West Wing TV series ("We Killed Yamamoto"; original air date
|The Fisher Space Pen|
Curtin, Ciara. "NASA Spent Millions to Develop a Pen That Would Write in Space." Scientific American 20 December 2008. Garber, Steve. "The Fisher Space Pen." NASA.gov. The Moscow Times. "Pencil Us in for the Next Y2K Disaster." 14 January 2000.