The Russians used a pencil

Fisher AG-7 Space Pen

Fisher AG-7 Space Pen

“In the 1960’s NASA spent many years and millions of taxpayer dollars developing a special ‘space pen’ that uses nitrogen-pressurized ink cartridges to work in zero gravity, in a vacuum and at extreme temperatures ranging from -50 F to +400 F.

“The Russians used a pencil.”

This story keeps cropping up as an example of bureaucratic waste, or specifically as an example of what a colossal waste of money the space programme has been. It has been circulating the internet as fact since the mid ’90s, and even fictional White House Chief of Staff Leo McGarry made the claim in a 2002 episode of the West Wing.

This Million Dollar Space Pen story is a pure fabrication however. The space pen was developed not by NASA, but by businessman Paul C. Fisher. It was only adopted by NASA after years of testing and the costs of developing the pen were never passed on to the US government. Furthermore, detritus from wooden pencils presented a potential hazard in microgravity, and Soviet Union would later adopt the Fisher space pen also. Continue reading