Of Space and Pens
The story goes that NASA spent millions of dollars developing a high-tech space pen while the more practical Russians just used a pencil.
Only it isn’t true. At all.
During the first NASA missions, US astronauts used pencils. For Project Gemini, for example, NASA ordered mechanical pencils in 1965 from Tycam Engineering Manufacturing, Inc., in Houston. The fixed price contract purchased 34 units at a total cost of $4,382.50, or $128.89 per unit. That created something of a stink, as many people believed it was a frivolous expense. NASA backtracked immediately and equipped the astronauts with less costly items.
During this time period, Paul C. Fisher of the Fisher Pen Co. designed a ballpoint pen that would operate better in the unique environment of space. His new pen, with a pressurized ink cartridge, functioned in a weightless environment, underwater, in other liquids, and in temperature extremes ranging from -50 F to +400 F. He developed his pen with no NASA funding, at a reported cost of $1 million–then patented the pen and cornered the market as a result.
Fisher offered the pens to NASA in 1965, but, because of the earlier controversy, the agency was hesitant in its approach. In 1967, after rigorous tests, NASA managers agreed to equip the Apollo astronauts with these pens. NASA purchased 400 pens at $6 per unit for Project Apollo.
The Soviet Union also purchased 100 of the Fisher pens and 1,000 ink cartridges in February 1969, for use on its Soyuz space flights. Previously, its cosmonauts had been using grease pencils to write in orbit. Both American astronauts and Soviet/Russian cosmonauts have continued to use these pens.
I use them too. They are great for autographs and won’t leak or go dry when left for months in a car. Of course, the price has gone up.