Rumor has it that when NASA started sending astronauts to space, they quickly discovered that ballpoint pens would not work in zero gravity. To combat the problem, NASA spent a decade and some billion dollars to develop a pen that works in zero gravity, underwater, and almost in any surface and at a temperature ranging from below freezing to 570 degrees Fahrenheit (300 Celsius). Russians on the other hand, used a pencil.
Despite being an amusing story though, this is nothing more than a myth.
Yes, of course it’s true that ballpoint pens wouldn’t work in space but NASA did not fund any space pen research program whatsoever; they bought their pens from a private company that later sold the same pen to the Soviets! Here’s the story: (the article continues after the ad)
Just like the Russians, NASA astronauts were originally using pencils. But pencils weren’t exactly the best choice: their tip could break off and end up floating around in the space capsule thus being a potential threat for the astronauts’ equipment. In addition, pencils are flammable and NASA wanted to avoid carrying anything flammable on board – especially after the Apollon 1 fire.
Paul C. Fisher and his company, the Fisher Pen Company, learned about this challenge and decided to invest in producing a space pen. After reportedly investing $1 million, they created the first successful pressurized pens in 1965. Samples were sent to NASA where they were thoroughly tested and approved. The first pens were sold to America’s space agency in December 1967 for $2.95 each.
After being used by NASA, the Russians approached the Fisher Pen Company and bought the same space pen. Pressurised pens have been used ever since on both American and Russian manned space flights.
So, now you know!