The True Story of the Space Pen

65

2021 is a special year - 60 years ago, man flew into space for the first time. With the flight of Yuri Gagarin, a new era began in stories of all mankind - the space age. At the same time, space exploration is not only serious scientific research, unique developments, communication satellites, telescopes, Star Wars projects, but also work on solving quite utilitarian problems that no one on Earth simply thinks about.

For the first cosmonauts, it was even a problem to simply write down the results of their observations and research on paper. Ordinary ballpoint pens did not write in space. Against this background, an anecdote or urban legend about how the American space agency spent millions of dollars on the development of a special pen that would write in space, while all this time the Russians were making notes in pencil, became widespread. This beautiful bike was widespread on both sides of the Atlantic.



This example of contemporary folklore is indicative of the fact that almost everything in this story is not true. At the same time, in the USA and the USSR, and then in Russia, different meanings were put into history. In the US, taxpayers were worried about NASA's big spending. And the inhabitants of the Soviet Union and Russia played up the message of the satirist Zadornov about "stupid" Americans and Russian ingenuity with the ability to cook porridge from an ax.

But, as often happens, reality turned out to be more interesting than any anecdotes, urban legends and humorists' performances. NASA hasn't spent a cent on the space pen. It was the product of the inventiveness and investment of American businessman Paul Fisher, who then sold the pen to both NASA and the CCCP. Since the late 1960s, both American and Soviet astronauts have been writing in orbit with a Fischer pen.

What did astronauts and cosmonauts write in space?


During the first space flights, it turned out that ordinary ballpoint pens do not write in zero gravity. For such handles, gravity is important. The ink should go along the rod to the ball, so ballpoint pens do not write upside down either and write very poorly on vertical surfaces. You don't even need to fly into space to be convinced of this.


American Astronaut with Fischer Pen AG7

At the same time, you still need to write in space. How did the first conquerors of stellar spaces solve this problem before the invention of special devices?

American astronauts used pencils. But not ordinary, but mechanical. So in 1965, NASA for the Gemini space project ordered mechanical pencils from the Houston-based company Tycam Engineering Manufacturing.

These pencils can be safely called "gold". In total, under the contract, the American space agency purchased 34 pencils for a total of $ 4382,5. That is, each pencil cost NASA $ 128,89. It is believed that the information leaked to the press about these mechanical pencils was the beginning of the urban legend of spending millions on a device that would write in space.

This state of affairs resented many. People reasonably noticed that such expenses could be called unreasonable. At the same time, the price was so high due to the fact that the pencils were specially modified so that they could be used in a spacesuit. Plus - it was a really piece goods. But NASA, of course, did not want to put up with such prices. This largely influenced the fact that astronauts eventually switched to less expensive writing supplies.

In some sources, you can also find information that the Americans used in space and felt-tip pens. But the space agency's official website only mentions mechanical pencils. The rods in them were the most common, but the light and durable metal body was made to order.

Mechanical pencils made it possible to write with fairly thin lines. But even they were dangerous in space. The tip of a graphite rod could always break off. Each of you who wrote with such pencils knows that this is a fairly common situation. A piece of graphite floating in zero gravity inside the spacecraft was harmful debris that could get into the eye, as well as into any equipment or electronics. The problem was that graphite is a conductive material. Once in the ship's electronics, graphite dust and debris could cause a short circuit.


Space pen AG-7 in a gift case

Soviet cosmonauts originally also used pencils in space. But also unusual, rather waxy. Regular pencils were not used due to the fact that they had to be sharpened (extra rubbish). And graphite itself presented problems in space. Wax pencils did not have problems with the destruction of the rod, if its long length was required for writing, then the astronaut simply removed the next layer of paper from the pencil.

True, it was inconvenient to write with wax pencils. They were more suitable for drawings; it was very difficult to draw clear and clear lines with them, since the process resembled working with children's crayons. At the same time, such pencils were still a source of fine dust. And the paper from their wrapper could also become small debris floating inside the ship.

Fisher's Space Pen


As we have already found out, at the dawn of space exploration, both the Americans and the Soviet cosmonauts wrote, albeit differently, but still with pencils.

The American entrepreneur Paul Fisher corrected the situation. The "space pen" he created and launched into production was tried first at NASA, and then the Soviet Union also acquired it for its space programs.

The American space agency had no part in Fischer's project. The businessman realized his idea at his own expense. Fortunately, before that, he already owned a company specializing in the production of pens. His main stake was on the future sale of a pen that could be advertised as a space pen. Fischer's idea fully justified itself. And his investment in the project paid off many times over.

Fischer's patented ballpoint pen worked not only in zero gravity, but also under water. She also wrote on wet paper. It could be used at any angle and in a very wide temperature range from -50 to +400 degrees Fahrenheit (-45,5 to +204 degrees Celsius). This temperature range is listed on the NASA website. The pen's lifespan was estimated at 100 years.

The True Story of the Space Pen
Russian cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev prepares to write "Total Dictation" with an AG7 pen

The handle was all-metal.

The classic model of the "anti-gravity pen," which came to be known as the space pen or astronaut pen, was indexed AG7 and was patented in the United States in 1965.

This model is sold to this day. And it has not undergone any changes. Today, anyone can purchase such a pen, prices start at $ 70.

The space pen's writing ball was made of tungsten carbide and was set with very high precision to avoid leakage. Space pen ink was thixotropic — normally hard, liquefying when writing. In addition, the main innovation of the pen was that ink from a special cartridge-rod was squeezed out under the pressure of compressed nitrogen - about 2,4 atmospheres. The ink was separated from the pressurized nitrogen by a special sliding float.

Already in 1965, Fischer offered his pen to the American space agency, which was studying the possibility of using a new writing device until 1967. After extensive testing and confirmation of performance, the pens were handed over to astronauts for use in the Apollo program. This time, the Americans immediately bought 400 pens and agreed on wholesale prices - $ 6 apiece.

Even for the late 1960s, Fischer was definitely price dumping. But his calculation was simple - free advertising and people's love for everything in space.

The entrepreneur was confident that the space pen, which participates in the Apollo program, will be successfully sold in the civilian market. So in the end it happened.

At the same time, attention was paid to the handle in the USSR. The Soviet Union purchased 100 Fischer pens and immediately 1000 refills for them. The deal was closed in February 1969. Soviet cosmonauts wrote with a Fischer pen during the numerous flights of the Soyuz.

Already in 1975, as part of the famous Soyuz-Apollo flight, both American astronauts and Soviet cosmonauts wrote with the same pens that are still used in space.
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  1. +15
    27 May 2021
    As we have already found out, at the dawn of space exploration, both the Americans and the Soviet cosmonauts wrote, albeit differently, but still with pencils.
    The last argument against pencils has to do with fire. Any flammable material in an environment with a high concentration of oxygen is dangerous - this is a lesson the Americans and we learned after the fire on Apollo 1. After this very tragedy, NASA took measures to minimize the use of flammable materials on spacecraft - and any pencil (regular, mechanical, or wax) contains some amount of flammable material, even if it is graphite. Fischer came up with his pen very well in time, making good money on this business, after all, he sold the Fisher Space Pen to simple, grounded, buyers. Having patented his space pen, he became the sole supplier to two of the world's major space programs. In the era of space fever, who could wish for better publicity? ..
    1. +6
      27 May 2021
      Quote: SERGE ant
      flammable materials on spacecraft - and any pencil (regular, mechanical, or wax) contains a certain amount of flammable material, even if it is graphite.

      Graphite is very difficult to attribute to flammable materials.
      1. +4
        28 May 2021
        Quote: BORMAN82
        Graphite is very difficult to attribute to flammable materials.

        Pieces of graphite, yes, will not catch fire, but graphite dust, especially with a lot of oxygen in the air? The stories of explosions and fires in coal mines are quite numerous.
        1. +4
          28 May 2021
          Quote: Starover_Z
          Pieces of graphite, yes, will not catch fire, but graphite dust, especially with a lot of oxygen in the air?

          Flour dust is another thermobaric ammunition.

          Many substances become explosive when suspended particles less than 0.1 mm in diameter. In general, the smaller the particle size, the faster the combustion reaction occurs, which means detonation. By the way, wheat flour is just as dangerous as sprayed sulfur and peat. These substances are included in the category of the most explosive.
          In the 70s and 80s of the last century, a whole series of similar explosions swept across the Soviet Union. So on November 10, 1981, at a flour mill in Tver, an explosion of flour took place, killing 10 people, and another 7 workers were injured of varying severity. The state of emergency, as it was then accepted, was not made public.
        2. +6
          28 May 2021
          Quote: Starover_Z
          Pieces of graphite, yes, will not catch fire, but graphite dust, especially with a lot of oxygen in the air? The stories of explosions and fires in coal mines are quite numerous.

          For a volumetric explosion, a concentration of coal dust of 40 g per m³ is required, I can hardly imagine such a situation on a manned spacecraft.
    2. +3
      28 May 2021
      Any flammable material in a high oxygen concentration environment is hazardous

      Even non-flammable things burn in an environment with a high oxygen content. For example steel.
      1. +8
        28 May 2021
        "In an environment with a high oxygen content, even non-flammable things burn. For example, steel."
        Well, what should be the concentration of oxygen for breathing? we have something like the atmosphere of the earth, amers, a little more. but steel, by itself, at such a concentration of oxygen, will not ignite
        1. 0
          31 May 2021
          If the atmosphere for breathing is like on Earth, then there is no point in talking about an oxygen atmosphere. But if the oxygen content is high, then yes.
          I don’t know how on spaceships, but on submarines, surviving submariners say that with an increased oxygen content in the air, everything starts to ignite spontaneously. Starting with the hair on the head, and ending with the equipment.
          1. +1
            31 May 2021
            "With an increased oxygen content in the air, everything starts to ignite spontaneously."
            how much increased? even at 100% oxygen, none of the above is spontaneously ignites... you can set it on fire, and it will willingly burn, but it will not ignite itself. talk to gas welders, they understand this better than divers
  2. +5
    27 May 2021
    pencils at $ 130 apiece? something cheap in comparison with the calculations of our tenders)))
    1. +6
      27 May 2021
      something cheap in comparison with the calculations of our tenders)))
      You have forgotten about the inflation of 130 dollars in 1965-67, which is not at all like the current ones.
      1. +5
        28 May 2021
        Yes. Now it's 1077 bucks.
      2. 0
        28 May 2021
        Quote: abrakadabre
        You have forgotten about the inflation of 130 dollars in 1965-67, which is not at all like the current ones.

        Quote: Sahalinets
        Yes. Now it's 1077 bucks.

        And then it was 390 - 650 rubles from currency dealers or 117 rubles at the exchange rate.
    2. +4
      28 May 2021
      "pencils for $ 130 a piece?"
      in comparison with the Vostochny cosmodrome, finally, a penny
  3. +22
    27 May 2021
    An exciting story, thank you! I looked in online stores - it is really on sale. I ordered it, and will come in a couple of weeks ... Maybe I'll finally get hold of a normal writing pen, and in extreme cases there will be an interesting artifact on the table. I strongly support such advertising.
    1. +10
      27 May 2021
      And I have Fisher's space pen. Slightly different model, but branded, official.

      Just recently I was sorting through my desk, I saw her ...
      However, it has been in the box for about 20 years, and I have never written with it! Hands will reach - I will try wink

      But what confuses me: she is with excess pressure inside, is she not "blown away"? ... wassat At the same time, I will check the reliability of the vaunted product.

      So yes! They were also actively sold on the civilian market. I bought mine on a tour of the Cape Canaveral Cosmodrome (Kennedy Space Center).
      1. +1
        27 May 2021
        They were originally intended for the civilian market, for extreme conditions.
      2. +3
        27 May 2021
        But what confuses me: she is with excess pressure inside, is she not "blown away"?

        Surprised in the patent that nitrogen is a propellant. Already two and a half kg and the spring can. Check valve, howled and write. Even if it bleeds all the way from lying down for a long time, it's not scary.
        1. +2
          28 May 2021
          Cocking is, apart from additional body movements, also small mechanics, which tend to fail: a small spring that gives out 2.4 kg - offhand, is very stiff for the height of the rod volume, and will last a small number of cocking cycles. I suppose they considered this method as well before bothering with the pressure capsule.
          1. The comment was deleted.
          2. +2
            29 May 2021
            The article is not talking about 2,4 kilograms, but about 2,4 atmospheres. Which means 2,4 kilograms per square centimeter (or 100 mm2). To create this pressure, a rod with an inner diameter of 2 mm and an area of ​​3,14 mm2 will require a force of 75,4 grams. A rod with a diameter of 4 mm has an area of ​​12,56 mm2 and requires a force of 302 grams. Agree - this is a completely different effort.
            1. 0
              30 May 2021
              I agree, my fault, I didn't count. Thank you for the lesson.
    2. I subscribe to your words. I read it with interest and great pleasure!
    3. +3
      27 May 2021
      military_cat, try a Chinese fountain pen. In my youth, they were highly prized for their quality. Correct the handwriting at the same time. Ballpoint has a great effect on the ugliness of handwriting. wink
      1. 0
        31 May 2021
        When school switched from fountain pens to ballpoint pens, the handwriting story was popular.

        But the pen was more beautiful (but not a clerical one)
    4. +1
      28 May 2021
      Correctly say
      - Live and learn
    5. 0
      30 2021 June
      Quote: military_cat
      will arrive in a couple of weeks

      She arrived, albeit longer than a couple of weeks. Weighty. :) Writes well.
  4. +8
    27 May 2021
    That's when it is necessary - then the corresponding technologies appear !!! good
    Excellent article, Respect for the author !!! drinks
  5. +4
    27 May 2021
    I had a friend from Germany named Voldemar Fischer. When we got to know each other better, it turned out that for most of his life (before moving to Germany) he was Vladimir Rybakov.
  6. +7
    27 May 2021
    Such a beautiful legend was dispelled ... feel
  7. +2
    27 May 2021
    Only with them, bears don't ride bicycles, and for 15 years (or maybe 20) Negroes don't play basketball.
  8. +7
    27 May 2021
    I read the article as if I found out that Santa Claus does not exist, with this legend about a pencil)
    1. 0
      27 May 2021
      Quote: Victor Tsenin
      I read the article as if I found out that Santa Claus does not exist, with this legend about a pencil)

      Don't trust your eyes, trust your mind.
  9. +8
    27 May 2021
    You friends will laugh.
    But a simple ordinary pencil has absolutely not lost its relevance. Against the background of all these pens / grips Markers / shmarkers ...
    I am especially sad about the developed network of so-called mechanical pencils.
    Plastic machine with a collet and a long lead at the seredin. I pressed the button and the pencil leaned out.
    Oh my God. There is a lack of such machines. Right the day before yesterday!
    Now you have to run around with a sharpener in your pocket.
    Taken as a Chihara from her daughter. feel
    1. +2
      27 May 2021
      Vasily, and the chemical pencil is still a song! Slobber, and write where you want! This is not humor or sarcasm, this is the prose of life.
    2. +2
      28 May 2021
      Quote: Petrol cutter
      You friends will laugh.
      But a simple ordinary pencil has absolutely not lost its relevance. Against the background of all these pens / grips Markers / shmarkers ...
      I am especially sad about the developed network of so-called mechanical pencils.
      Plastic machine with a collet and a long lead at the seredin. I pressed the button and the pencil leaned out.
      Oh my God. There is a lack of such machines. Right the day before yesterday!
      Now you have to run around with a sharpener in your pocket.
      Taken as a Chihara from her daughter. feel


      Have you tried going to any stationery supermarket?
      Although. why am I asking this: "Red and White" is closer ...
      :)
      1. +2
        28 May 2021
        I don't have supermarkets as a class.
        Not everyone lives in Moscau.
        And you, use less psychotropic mushrooms.
        Campaign, they are closer to you.
    3. +1
      28 May 2021
      These pencils are now a wagon and a cart. From simple to expensive Stadlers and Pilots. And there are old steel Kohinoras too. What's missing? Here the dreams of the Soviet designer came true for a long time.
      1. 0
        28 May 2021
        In the village of Primorsky, people are little interested in where and what is. Leave your mainland affairs on the mainland.
        Specifically, we have?!. Which shopping center?
        Do I have it, this very mall?
        1. +3
          28 May 2021
          Quote: Petrol cutter
          Do I have it, this very mall?

          Everything is on the Internet, even pencils ... And you have the Russian post ..
          1. +3
            29 May 2021
            I have no Russian mail. I have the post of the Crimea.
            Buy pencils online? Also theirs?
            I brought a grinder from home to the factory! And also two roulettes. And you will laugh markers for marking sections I have been buying myself for a long time.
            And now, introductory. The plant delays your salary for months.
            Although the contract says, the employer is obliged to provide everything you need.
            Immediately answer. And who does not like it, a statement on the table.
            And there is no more work ... feel
            Where are you going dear man? The wipers? Loaders? ...
            To be recruited to Vladik? And if health is suddenly gone?
            1. +4
              29 May 2021
              Quote: Petrol cutter
              In the village of Primorsky

              Quote: Petrol cutter
              I have the post of the Crimea.

              Quote: Petrol cutter
              Do I have it, this very mall?

              Quote: Petrol cutter
              Not everyone lives in Moscau.


              - I think - I will help a person find a store nearby, wild places, after all, Feodosia is already 12 km away (this is a week on dogs, and a week on a plane) ...
              ... went online, scored "Crimea Primorsky pencils" ... oops .... !!!!!
              4(FOUR!!!!!!) stationery store in the village of Primorsky ...
              2 on Victory, on Pionerskaya and on Jubilee

              yes, everything is sad with you !!!! uh-huh ..... whine-whine, cry-cry ... to the whole country ...
              Quote: Petrol cutter
              Oh my God. There is a lack of such machines. Right the day before yesterday!

              did not try to enter the store ?????
    4. 0
      30 May 2021
      I’m not laughing. It was cool - I pressed the key ... Only the leads broke quickly. And, with an ordinary pencil - a sharpener or a knife. All ingenious is simple!
    5. 0
      31 May 2021
      After removing the rod, it was still possible to shoot with a wet blotter
  10. +3
    27 May 2021
    great article!
  11. 0
    27 May 2021
    The article is certainly cool, but I literally have 1 question: Why the Armament section? Is this such a non-illusory hint that you can kill with a pen even in space? wassat
    1. +1
      27 May 2021
      Quote: Angry Alt-Right
      The article is certainly cool, but I literally have 1 question: Why the Armament section? Is this such a non-illusory hint that you can kill with a pen even in space? wassat

      I remember that James Bond, aka Sean Connery, killed a girl with a pen. wink
    2. +5
      28 May 2021
      an ancient proverb says that "a pen to write kills more than a sword." So the division of weapons is correct
    3. 0
      28 May 2021
      Astronaut weapon
  12. +1
    27 May 2021
    Thanks for the article, I read it with interest!
  13. -1
    27 May 2021
    And then I remember this legend about the astronauts every time I pick up a pencil. I gave up ballpoint pens a long time ago. Either write on a computer or draw and write with a pencil on paper. I only chose mechanical - leads from 0,3 to 1,2 mm, hardness from 2H to 2B. For all occasions, quick and easy to edit with an elastic band. And only then everything is in electronic form.
  14. -13
    27 May 2021
    NASA hasn't spent a cent on the space pen. It was the product of the inventive activity and investment of American businessman Paul Fisher, who then sold the pen to NASA.
    So NASA bought a pen or gave it to them. They write that they did not spend anything, they write that they bought it. And if we are talking about R&D, then why is it not written that NASA did not spend on development of pens not a cent. The author wrote some kind of verbal diarrhea.
    1. +3
      28 May 2021
      I went to the store and bought ice cream now. I spent money on it, on the final product, but not on its development: coming up with a recipe, building a manufacturing plant, etc. So the article is written correctly.
      1. -2
        28 May 2021
        Quote: Garfield
        I went to the store and bought ice cream now. I spent money on it, on the final product, but not on its development: coming up with a recipe, building a manufacturing plant, etc. So the article is written correctly.

        written
        NASA did not spend a cent on the "space pen"
        but they bought it, so they spent the money.
  15. +3
    28 May 2021
    Breaking the template for uryakalok ....
    1. +1
      28 May 2021
      Bikes bikes. But this anecdote is not even ours, but American.
      Nobody ever hid anything about Fischer's pens. Ours bought them as soon as they appeared. Whoever wanted, knew it. Who did not want to laugh at the anecdote.
  16. +3
    28 May 2021
    Fischer has a very budget-friendly alternative. Everything was done using the same technology. UNI PowerTank. All the same. High pressure rod. Writes both in water and upside down. - 40 did not check. There was no such frost. But - 32-35 works. In the description, work in space is present. Didn't check laughing
  17. +3
    28 May 2021

    Here is a photo. For some reason, the comment was not inserted on the phone
  18. +1
    28 May 2021
    And the USSR did not copy Fischer's pen?
    1. +1
      28 May 2021
      Failure to do so may be economically disadvantageous.
  19. +2
    28 May 2021
    Das. So here too, hurray-smi lied, lied and lied ...
    1. +2
      28 May 2021
      Quote: Max1995
      Das. So here too, hurray-smi lied, lied and lied ...


      Yes, the story with the pen and pencil turned out to be another story, as well as about the RD-180 ...
  20. The comment was deleted.
  21. 0
    30 May 2021
    I prefer a carpenter's pencil.
  22. 0
    31 May 2021
    Quote: aglet
    "pencils for $ 130 a piece?"
    in comparison with the Vostochny cosmodrome, finally, a penny

    compare ass to finger it's a certain mindset to have
  23. +1
    31 May 2021
    During the first space flights, it turned out that ordinary ballpoint pens do not write in zero gravity. For such handles, gravity is important. The ink should go along the rod to the ball, so ballpoint pens do not write upside down either and write very poorly on vertical surfaces.


    Check out this 2003 article by European astronaut Pedro Duque: http://www.esa.int/Science_Exploration/Human_and_Robotic_Exploration/Cervantes_Mission/Pedro_Duque_s_diary_from_space

    I am writing these notes in the Soyuz with a cheap ballpoint pen. Why is that important?
  24. 0
    2 2021 June
    I don't like the color of the ink. All Black. (((Sorry for the cosmonauts forced to keep "depressive" notes.

    It was not for nothing that in the Soviet school, children learned to write with a fountain pen and purple ink - positive! laughing

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