How NASA takes notes in space

The Space Pen has captured the American imagination in more ways than one. It appeared repeatedly in pop culture and even functioned as a plot device in an episode of “Seinfeld” titled “The Pen,” and in 2021 it was included in the Space Technology Hall of Fame. It is also the subject of a myth that the space agency spent millions to invent a pen that could write in zero gravity, while cosmonauts simply used a pencil.

Let’s see the facts about the Space Pen, pencils in space and how POT astronauts write aboard the space station.

In one of the first live video broadcasts from an American spacecraft, Apollo 7 mission commander Walter Schirra demonstrates zero gravity by blowing into a space pen. Credit: NASA

Is the space pen a real thing?

Yes. The Fisher Space Pen made its television debut in October 1968, when Apollo 7 commander Walter Schirra demonstrated his weightlessness by blowing a pen to control its movement while floating around the capsule. It was one of the first live video broadcasts from an American spacecraft. Since then, space pens have appeared on television shows from “Mad Men” and “A Mom to a Friend” to “How It’s Made.” The pens are displayed in space museums and in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

In 2021, the technology was recognized by the Space Foundation as a innovation Developed for space, it now improves life on Earth, combining 80 other technologies into the organization’s Hall of Fame.

Why not just use a pencil?

NASA wanted an alternative to pencils because the mine could easily break and float, creating a hazard to astronauts and the spacecraft’s sensitive electronics. Cosmonauts have also been using space pens since 1969.

Did it cost taxpayers millions?

No. Paul Fisher of the Fisher Pen Company had previously worked on a pressurized pen. That said, it probably never would have reached the heights it has reached, in orbit or in popularity, without NASA testing.

“The original pens were terrible,” said Cary Fisher, Paul’s son and current president of the company, which is now in Boulder City, Nevada. Keep in mind that early pens tended to come off, chip, and dry out.

Paul Fisher Founder of Fisher Pen Company

Fisher Pen Company founder Paul Fisher celebrates the company’s 50th anniversary by displaying various models of the Space Pen he invented. Credit: Fisher Pen Company

To solve the problem, his father, who had already invented the first universal ink cartridge refill, was working on a cartridge sealed with nitrogen pressurized on top that pushed a tiny piston against the ink. But the pressure trickled down the feathers.

When NASA contacted him looking for a pen that did not require gravity, he knew that this pressurized ink cartridge might be just the thing, if he could fix the leaks. With NASA’s interest spurring him on, he finally succeeded when he added resin to the ink to make it “thixotropic”, almost solid until friction with the sphere at the tip of the pen liquefied it. He named the result AG7, for antigravity, and sent several to NASA.

NASA’s Manned Spacecraft Center, now Johnson Space Center in Houston, has tested the pens extensively. The space agency found that the pens worked in all positions, in extreme hot and cold conditions and in atmospheres ranging from pure oxygen to vacuum. And they contained enough ink to draw a continuous line over three miles long, well beyond NASA’s half-kilometer (0.3 mile) ink requirement.

That test accelerated the development of the pen from prototype to a safe and reliable product.

Once he flew into space, Paul decided on the name Space pen. “I thought it was a terrible name,” recalls her son. “I said it will sound like a toy. But my father was right, as he used to be.

Ballpoint pens are known in part for their reliability, but they have also come to symbolize American ingenuity: An inventor and small business owner stepped up and solved the pen problem as NASA focused on safely landing the pens. . American astronauts on the moon.

Paul and his son continued to perfect the technology and design new models.

Do astronauts still use them?

The pens have been used on all NASA manned missions since Apollo 7; there are currently dozens aboard the International Space Station.

Fisher Pen Space

The AG7 model was the first Fisher Space Pen. Credit: Fisher Pen Company

Is it just because of space?

The Space Pen line now includes around 80 models.

Although they are popular gift items, Cary said, they are particularly in demand among members of the military and law enforcement, as well as outdoor enthusiasts, aircraft manufacturers and oil workers, who, like the astronauts appreciate their ability to write in any condition.

Fisher Pen Company has distributors in 52 countries, but it still makes all of its pens in Boulder City, where more than 60 employees produce more than a million pens a year.

NASA has a long history of transferring technology to the private sector. The agency’s Spinoff publication describes NASA technologies that have been transformed into commercial products and services, demonstrating the broader benefits of US investment in its space program. Spinoff is a publication of the Technology Transfer program at NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate.

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Myrtle Frost

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