May 26CoolTool: The Fisher Space Pen vs the Pencil
I love my Fisher Space Pen.
The West Wing, Series 3, Episode 21 “We Killed Yamamoto”, (2002) :
Josh and Toby come in with Leo.
We spent millions of dollars developing a pen for the astronauts that would work in zero gravity. Know what the Russians did?
Used a pencil?
They used a pencil.
It makes a good story – rich American’s over-reliance on expensive technology, vs the enforced practicality of poor Russian. However, like many good stories, it ain’t actually so.
The ‘zero gravity’ or ‘space pen’ was invented in 1965 by Paul C Fisher, and they are still made by his company in Boulder City, Nevada. They were developed privately, without funding from the US space program.
Initially, both the Russian and US space program used pencils for writing in zero gravity But there were problems with broken bits of lead floating around the capsule. and graphite dust, and concerns about flammability.
Pen manufacture Paul Fisher invested about a million dollars in perfecting the ballpoint pen. In 1965, he saw a marketing opportunity, and sent the pressurised pen he had developed to the Houston Space Centre for assessment. He also began to advertise his ‘space pen’ – but the advertisements were blocked by NASA who considered it misleading to claim their endorsement.
However, the pens were good, and, eventually, NASA did place a large order for Fisher’s ‘space pens’, as did the Russian Space Agency soon afterwards. Since 1968, they have been the only pen used in space travel, by cosmonauts or astronauts.
The full story is told at the space review.
The space pen’s cartridge is pressurised. There is a small sliding float between pressurised gas at one end and the special ‘thixotropic’ ink at the other. Due to the pressure of the gas, the pen does not rely on gravity to write as other pens do. It can be used in zero gravity, upside down, underwater, over wet and greasy paper, at any angle, and in extreme temperature ranges.
There are two models, the AG7 Astronaut pen, and my preferred model – the compact Bullet Pen. The bullet pen is half the length of a normal biro, but becomes full length when you place the ‘cap’ on the rear end for writing. (Make sure you get the model with the clip – they come in different colours but I like the 400CL)
Closed Bullet Pen
Opened, with the cap on the end
The Bullet Space Pen is a perfect match for my wallet – the Levenger ‘Pocket Briefcase’. I take them both everywhere.
Space Pens and refill cartridges are available at Myers and other pen shops, and can be bought online through many eBay dealers and from Peter’s at Kensington. The Bullet Pen with clip costs between $35 and $55 depending on the deal on the day you buy them. Refills are about $10.
You never know when I may find myself in outer space.
If I am, I’m sure it would be handy to be able to write down someone’s number.