Several instruments have been used to write in outer space, including different types of pencils and pens. Some of them have been unmodified versions of conventional writing instruments; others have been invented specifically to counter the problems with writing in space conditions.
The Space Pen (also known as the Zero Gravity Pen), marketed by Fisher Space Pen Company, is a pen that uses pressurized ink cartridges and is able to write in zero gravity, underwater, over wet and greasy paper, at any angle, and in a very wide range of temperatures.
The Fisher Space Pen was invented by American industrialist and pen manufacturer Paul C. Fisher and is manufactured in Boulder City, Nevada, United States of America. Paul C. Fisher first patented the AG7 “anti gravity” pen in 1965. Pens claiming some or all of the same abilities have also appeared on the market from other manufacturers.
The Russians Didn’t Just Use Pencils in Space
A longstanding urban legend goes like this: During the space race of the 1960s, NASA spent millions developing a fancy “space pen” that could be used in zero gravity … but the Soviets just used a pencil. This story resonates with us because NASA did actually spend piles of money on writing utensils in space—in 1965 they paid $128 per mechanical pencil, according to NASA historians (for the record, the pencils had high-strength outer casings, but the writing guts were just regular mechanical pencils). It just seems logical that the thrifty Soviets would use a simpler, smarter solution. But the story about the government-funded space pen and Soviets using pencils instead is just plain wrong—both space programs used the Fisher Space Pen, and neither paid anything to develop it. Let’s dig into the real history here.
WHY NOT USE A PENCIL?
Americans and Soviets actually did use pencils in space, before the Space Pen came around. Americans favored mechanical pencils, which produced a fine line but presented hazards when the pencil lead tips broke (and if you’ve ever used a mechanical pencil, you know that this happens a lot). That bit of graphite floating around the space capsule could get into someone’s eye, or even find its way into machinery or electronics, causing an electrical short or other problems. And if there’s one thing Houston didn’t need, it was more astronauts calling up with problems.