|You know that "NASA spent millions of dollars to develop a space pen, cosmonauts used pencils" thing
||[Apr. 14th, 2014|10:00 am]
It's not actually accurate: NASA spent no money on it -- Fisher Pens developed a pen that would write in space, and wrote to NASA telling them what they'd done, and would they like to buy some, and NASA bought them spending the same amount of money anybody else would spend.|
So, let's tell the story.
"When the Americans started sending astronauts into space, they quickly discovered that ballpoint pens wouldn't work reliably in zero-gravity. So they used pencils and grease pencils. But they didn't work well; grease pencils smeared and hard-to-read numbers can kill, for instance. So they set up a list of what their requirements were. Fisher developed a pen that matched the list, and sold them to NASA for $2.95 apiece, which is $20 apiece in today's money. You can still buy them for that price, and Fisher made their investment back many, many times over -- it's still the core of their company.
The Soviets continued to use pencils. So graphite, which is a wonderful conductor, floated around and shorted out electronics. Wood shavings, which are inflammable, got into electronics and started fires. So the Soviets very, very quickly started buying the Fisher pens, too. Because they're a whole lot safer than pencils in space."