You must have heard this story! Back in the 60s when the space race was heating up between USA’s NASA and Soviet space program and they were competing in almost everything. While the competition usually consisted of rockets and satellites, there was a time when they locked horns for the supremacy for the best space writing equipment!
The story adds that NASA invested millions of dollars in developing a pen that would work in zero gravity since normal fountain pens didn’t work in the space. However, while NASA was burning all that cash, the Russians were shrewd enough to simply use pencils in space, thus saved millions of dollars and a whole lot of time!
So is that story true?
Of course not! This is how it really happened!
Soviet cosmonauts did take pencils to space, but so did the American astronauts. While our “common sense” states that it’s a cheap and viable fix, it quickly became clear that it wasn’t that bright an idea since pencil nibs are prone to breaking and thus send sharp lead and wooden pieces hurtling in the zero gravity, a grave danger to everyone inside the shuttle. Besides a threat to the eyes, these fragments were also potentially dangerous for the multi-billion equipment and could even cause a fire.
Having said that, NASA did waste money on specially designed pencils, which only highlighted the need for a better technology. In 1965, NASA paid a mind-boggling $4,382.50 ($31,949 today) for 34 “special” pencils made by Tycam Engineering Manufacturing Inc. that were promised not to break.
Needless to say that research on a space pen was quite required, but the fact is that neither NASA nor the Soviet spent any money on the contraption. Instead, this need was identified by a certain Paul C. Fisher and co. of the Fisher Pen Company. This private firm invested over a million dollars in creating the space pen that used pressurized nitrogen (35 psi) and forced out a customized gel-like ink.
The “AG-7” pen was ready by 1965, and they claimed that besides working in zero gravity, the pen could also be used upside down, underwater, and even within a remarkable temperature range of -50 to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (-45 C to 204 C).
Fisher pitched the “AG-7” pen to NASA, who took it up in a heartbeat and bought four hundred pens for just under $2.39 a piece, “.which would cost $17.42 today at 40% off the normal consumer price of $3.98.
There are even some versions of the Fisher space pen that you can buy and use as well!
To learn more about the AG-7 pen you can visit the official NASA history page. And to know about the world’s first commercially viable ballpoint pen by Bíró and Bic’s ballpoint revolution, watch the video below by “Today I Found Out!”.