How-To Geek

Inside the History of the Fisher Space Pen

If ever there was a writing instrument steeped in legend and lore it’s the Fisher Space Pen. Read on to learn more about the writes-anywhere instrument and separate the fact from the fiction.

Courtesy of the Smithsonian’s Design Decoded column, we’re treated to all sorts of facts about the development and marketing of the famous space pen:

The Fisher Space Pen was created by inventor, pen manufacturer, and (brief) JFK political opponent Paul C. Fisher. Fisher had been an innovator in the pen industry for years, even before he started his own company. His mastery of the ballpoint pen can be attributed in part to his experience working with ball bearings in a airplane propeller factory during World War II. Fisher also invented the “universal refill” ink cartridge, ultimately leading him to create the very first “Anti-Gravity” pen, the AG7, which was patented in 1966 and famously used by astronauts during the Apollo space missions. However, it’s a popular misconception that NASA invested millions of dollars into the development of the zero-gravity writing instrument. They didn’t. Nor did the space agency approach Fisher to develop a pen for use by American astronauts.

According to a 2006 piece in Scientific American, the truth is that Fisher had been working on the design for years and had invested $1 million into the pen’s development. But Fisher wasn’t dreaming of astronauts writing postcards from Earth orbit, he was just looking to make a good pen that worked without leaking. After years of research and prototypes, he created what he believed to be the perfect pen – a pen with ink that wasn’t exposed to air and didn’t rely on gravity so it wouldn’t leak or dry up; a pen that could write underwater and function at temperatures ranging from -30 to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Fisher’s breakthrough was perfectly timed with the space race and he offered the pens to NASA for consideration. After two years of testing, it was approved and Fisher’s pen accompanied Apollo 7 astronauts into space.

Hit up the link below for the full article.

The Fisher Space Pen Boldly Writes Where No Man Has Written Before [via Boing Boing]

Jason Fitzpatrick is a warranty-voiding DIYer who spends his days cracking opening cases and wrestling with code so you don't have to. If it can be modded, optimized, repurposed, or torn apart for fun he's interested (and probably already at the workbench taking it apart). You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 01/21/13

Comments (8)

  1. Swords R Better

    The myth you seem to be confusing with NASA is that NASA or our government somehow invested millions of dollars in a pen that would work anywhere. That’s mostly NOT true until you remember that NASA actually did BUY A FEW! Thanks for the reminder though.

    But it’s also NOT true to say that millions of dollars weren’t invested in a space pen either. The very fact that ANY money was spent on a space pen was famously pointed out by the Russians who said they didn’t need any of our western technology since PENCILS worked just as well if not BETTER!

    It’s hard to argue logical solutions like that. It’s even more potent when you consider all the wasteful spending that so many companies do – including Washington – when there very well may be simple or even free alternatives.

    So, thanks for the pens and all the technology behind them. I’m still not sure I like the price I pay even when I do occasionally buy a pen or ink refill. After all, someone has to pay for all that development and increase in costs and and such.

  2. toucan

    It was a mechanical pencil.

  3. max

    Makes me think of that great Seinfeld episode ‘The Pen’.

  4. indianacarnie

    @max – Me too!

    @Swords R Better – Perhaps the pen was preferable to a pencil because of the graphite dust? The eraser residue floating around?

    Thanks for the article, as always interesting.

  5. Ricpermar

    The story about the Russians using pencils is a legend too. As already mentioned, pencils produce graphite dust, and graphite is a extremely good electricity conductor. And uncontrolled conductors floating amidst electronic equipment travelling to the moon may cause all sorts of problems, from short circuits to false connections sending wrong signals around the system. It is the last thing you want to have in a spacecraft.

  6. Ushindi

    From Snopes:
    “NASA never asked Paul C. Fisher to produce a pen. When the astronauts began to fly, like the Russians, they used pencils, but the leads sometimes broke and became a hazard by floating in the [capsule’s] atmosphere where there was no gravity. They could float into an eye or nose or cause a short in an electrical device. In addition, both the lead and the wood of the pencil could burn rapidly in the pure oxygen atmosphere.” (Re the fire in Apollo 1.)

    “Lead pencils were used on all Mercury and Gemini space flights and all Russian space flights prior to 1968. Fisher Space Pens are more dependable than lead pencils and cannot create the hazard of a broken piece of lead floating through the gravity-less atmosphere.”

  7. John Doe

    poop-heads :P

  8. Cattleya

    Anyone ever watched ‘3 Idiots’?
    This is a fun trivia. Thanks.

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