Have you heard the story about how NASA engineers spent a million dollars developing an astronaut pen that would work in zero gravity? And how the Russian, being smarter, issued their cosmonauts with pencils.
Not true, according to the British Interplanetary Society.
(Full disclosure: I’m a Fellow of the British Interplanetary Society. Yes, it’s a real thing.)
Here’s the true story.
The early Mercury and Gemini missions used good, old fashioned pencils. In the mid-1960s, Paul Fisher of the Fisher Pen Company developed his ‘Space Pen’ as a private, commercial venture with no funding from NASA. The society’s article says:
The million dollar space pen myth is just that, a myth. The pens never cost a lot of money and were not developed by wasteful bureaucrats or overactive NASA engineers.
Much of the myth of the million dollar space pen is the result of clever marketing by Fisher. As the article notes:
To Fisher’s credit, the company produced a good pen. Within a few years, NASA was indeed buying the Space Pen, which NASA called the “Data Recording Pen.” The pen was carried aboard Apollo and Skylab missions.
The Space Pen cost NASA $1.98 each.