US government spent millions on R&D for a pen that would work in space while the Russians simply used a pencil. The common origin story can even be found on the back of this dollar store ‘Russian space pen’. Do you believe in that story?
This story is a real controversy…
During the great Space Race of the 20th century, the United States and Russia in fact both used pencils in space. The United States opted to use mechanical pencils like the one seen below, used in 1962 by astronaut John Glenn
While the Russians preferred to use grease pencils like the ones below
Both pencils came with their own set of problems. For mechanical pencils, when the lead broke—as it so often does —it would float around and could either get in someone’s eye or find its way into the machinery, perhaps shorting an electronic device. More concerning was that lead is a flammable material in a high-oxygen environment. For grease pencils, it was highly smudgy and imprecise.
They could not just use a pen because gravity. It’s gravity that forces the ink towards the ballpoint. In space, the ink would just float freely in the cartridge.
The truth is that the AG7 Fisher Space Pen—which has been used on all manned space flights since it was first used on Apollo 7 in 1968—was funded entirely by engineer and inventor Paul Fisher and his Fisher Pen Company.
Fisher developed his space pen with no NASA funding. The company reportedly invested about $1 million of its own funds. Fisher offered the pens to NASA in 1965, but, because of the earlier controversy, the agency was hesitant in its approach. In 1967, after rigorous tests, NASA managers agreed to equip the Apollo astronauts with these pens. Media reports indicate that approximately 400 pens were purchased from Fisher at $6 per unit for Project Apollo (at a 40% discount). The Soviet Union also purchased 100 of the Fisher pens, and 1,000 ink cartridges, in February 1969, for use on its Soyuz space flights
Images source: twistedsifter.com