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The Fisher Space Pen

The Truth About the NASA Urban Legend of The Fisher Space Pen

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During the space race in the 1960's, NASA was faced with the huge problem of how to write in the vacuum and weightlessness of space. There is an email that makes the rounds stating that NASA spent $1.5 millin dollars developing a "space pen," and that the Russians facing the same problem simply used a pencil.

Well, although the US government has been known to be quite wasteful at times, the truth is that early NASA astronauts also 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 controversy at the time, as many people believed it was a frivolous expense. NASA backtracked immediately and equipped the astronauts with less costly items.

At about this same time, Paul C. Fisher of the Fisher Pen Co. was working on the design for a ballpoint pen that would operate better in the unique environment of space. His invention was a new pen, with a pressurized ink cartridge that functioned in a weightless environment, underwater, in other liquids, and in temperature extremes ranging from -50 F to +400 F. This experimentation and development was undertaken with absolutely no NASA funding. The Fisher Pen Company reportedly invested about $1 million of its own funds in the effort then patented its product and cornered the market as a result.

After its development, Fisher contacted NASA about a possible sale of the new pens in 1965. Still feeling the flames from the earlier mechanical pencil purchase, the agency was quite hesitant to buy. However, after rigorous tests, NASA managers agreed to equip the Apollo astronauts with these pens. They bought approximately 400 pens at $6 per unit, a far more resaonable figure than that for the earlier pencils.

The USSR, whose cosmonauts had been using grease pencils, also purchased 100 pens and 1,000 ink cartridges. Both American astronauts and Soviet/Russian cosmonauts have continued to use Fisher Space Pen.

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.

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