With the near-Earth Asteroid known as 2023DZ2 (thought to be up to 100 metres wide!) whizzing past earth less than half the distance between us and the moon in March, we couldn't help but think about the amazing work of NASA, UKSA and ESA and the incredible tools of the trade! Alongside the billion dollar telescopes, computers and rockets are the simpler but no less important tools…such as pens!
The most famous pen relating to Space exploration is the Fisher Space Pen! This iconic masterpiece of writing instrument design and engineering was first introduced in 1948. The term iconic is not used lightly here! The Fisher Space Pen is fully recognised as a feat of American design and is featured in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Perhaps even more excitingly, it also featured in an episode of the equally iconic tv show ‘Seinfeld’ in an episode entitled (aptly) ‘THE Pen’. It is safe to say that The Fisher Space Pen has a cultural as well as an historical significance.
There is a little bit of myth and legend surrounding the initial relationship between the Fisher Space Pen and NASA and there is some contradictory information floating around the ether that is the world wide web. Regardless of the embellishments, the creativity and inventiveness of Paul C. Fisher's vision is undeniable.
The Space (pen) Race
It was the swinging 60’s and the space race was just starting to gather pace (extra points for the rhyming there!). NASA scientists identified a seemingly small issue that would turn out to be surprisingly significant - pens could not write in space!
Image Credit: CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
The often cited urban myth is that NASA invested millions of dollars in research and development to create a state-of-the-art writing tool to withstand the harsh conditions of space exploration whilst the rival Soviets saved money by using alternative technology - a pencil! This also poses its own problems but we will come back to that shortly.
The story only really exists now as a allegory to remind us that often the best solution is often the simplest solution because the story itself appears to be wholly untrue! With The International Day of Human Space Flight on April 12th (the anniversary of the first human space flight by cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin) and National Space Day on May 5th just around the corner, we are celebrating the incredible achievements of mankind's adventures into the cosmos and taking a look at the origins and history of the Fisher Space Pen.
Fisher Pen Company Before Fisher Space Pens
Founded in 1948, Paul C. Fisher created the Fisher Pen Company and very soon made waves in pen manufacturing with the invention of the universal refill cartridge. This invention intended to make the lives of stationers so much easier as they would not need to stock all of the cartridges for all of the different brands. But Stationers could carry the universal refill alongside some of their more popular brand cartridges and cover all of their bases! Fisher had a mission. His mission - much like many inventors and creatives in the pen industry - was to create the best pen he could that would be incredibly high quality, offensively attractive, and entirely practical for everyday use in that it would not dry up or leak.
Above: Paul C. Fisher.
Image Credit: Fisher Space Pens
Prior to his career in Stationery (and later a less remarkable foray into politics!) Paul C. Fisher worked in an aeroplane propeller factory (during World War II) with ball bearings but it wasn’t his true calling. After the war ended, Fisher began working in a pen factory and soon established himself as an innovator, creative and inventor. It wasn’t long before he opened his own pen company…with the idea for a non-leaking, work-horse pen that would be a fantastic day-to-day tool with exceptional qualities…by all accounts, his concept was not initially concerned with getting a pen into the cosmos.
Not only did Fisher want to improve the quality of the pens he designed and created, but he also wanted to revolutionise the world of pen design by creating a new cartridge that wouldn’t dry up or leak. The AG7 Space Pen landed on Earth in 1966 which featured the patented sealed and pressurised Fisher Space Pen ink cartridge. This little wonder utilised nitrogen in the top of the cartridge which then expands, forcing the ink to flow. In addition, the AG7 Space Pen utilised the thixotropic ink invented by Fisher to be especially viscous, allowing for the pen to be used in a number of environments…but more on that later.
The Rise of The Fisher Space Pen
During missions, Astronauts and Cosmonauts of the world (and out of this world) used pencils on their space missions. In 1965, NASA ordered mechanical pencils for Project Gemini. The mechanical pencils from Tycam Engineering Manufacturing Inc. in Houston Texas were purchased at a cost of $4,382.50 but for 34 units - meaning that each cost $128.89! You would think they had ordered the Graf von Faber-Castell Classic Mechanical Pencil in Macassar Wood! At the time, this expense was controversial. Seen as frivolous, NASA were forced to backtrack and reconsider the writing instruments that would be given to Astronauts.
Furthermore, the humble pencil was found to be wanting. There were a number of reasons that the pencil was deemed the imperfect tool for the job. Firstly, the ease with which pencil markings could be erased was a considerable issue when astronauts and cosmonauts were using pencils to make note of incredibly detailed calculations and observations vital to ensuring the success of the mission and the safety of everyone onboard.
In addition, should a pencil break, discharging even minuscule pieces into the interior of what can only be described as an incredibly intricate and sensitive environment - well…it wouldn't be very good!
Almost simultaneously with NASA’s ill-advised mechanical Pencil purchase, Paul C. Fisher of the Fisher Pen Co. was designing and manufacturing a ballpoint pen that was unique in the world of writing instruments. This ballpoint would be able to efficiently operate in the distinctive environment of space with its pressurised ink cartridge and ability to write in zero gravity, underwater and in extremes of temperature ranging from -50F to +400F (somewhat similar to our British Summer one would imagine!).
Image Credit: Fisher Space Pen Co.
It is sometimes stated that NASA funded the development of the Fisher Space Pen or at the very least, commissioned its creation - however, NASA reports no such thing. In fact, NASA provided no funding whatsoever and The Fisher company itself footed an investment of around $1 million of its own funds into the development and patent of the product. A testament to Fisher's confidence in the product perhaps!
In 1965, Fisher approached NASA with the pens but came up against a wall due to the earlier controversy with the mechanical pencils. It wouldn’t be for another 2 years, in 1967 that, after rigorous testing, Apollo astronauts were equipped with the Fisher Space Pen. Media reports stated that 400 pens were purchased with a much more budget friendly ‘per unit’ price of $6 for Project Apollo. Another two years passed and the Soviet Union purchased 100 Fisher Pens and 1000 ink cartridges to replace the grease pencils that had previously been used. The Fisher Pens would be used on the Soyuz space flights from early 1969. In fact, astronauts and cosmonauts have been using Fisher Space Pens on missions ever since! Including the famous Apollo 11 mission. With almost 55 years of service, the Fisher Space Pen has proven itself to be a reliable writing instrument with the ability to write flawlessly at any angle, they refuse to pack-up even in the most extreme environments without leaking or drying-out. With an estimated shelf life of 100 years, The Fisher Space Pen is a stunning writing instrument offering characteristics unlike many other earthbound pens.
This being said, there are some manufacturers presenting some of the properties of the Fisher Space Pen. An example being the Schmidt Megaline pressurised ballpoint refill.
The Schmidt MegaLine ballpoint refill is a highly sophisticated writing module based on a gas pressurised system. This enables you to not only write upside down but also in the most extreme environmental conditions. Thanks to their air tight system, these refills literally have an unlimited shelf-life. They are equipped with stainless steel tips manufactured with the utmost precision as well as special ball pen inks developed exclusively for this purpose. The Schmidt Megaline has a medium tip and fits many pens including the Fisher Space Pen.
The Fisher Pen Co. markets their space pens as having been to the Moon and created a whole separate corporation purely for the space pen…the Fisher Space Pen Co. No prizes for creativity with the Company name there!
The Fisher Space Pen Co. moved to Nevada in 1976 - Boulder City to be precise. Four years later Paul C. Fisher was declared small business person of the year for the state of Nevada. For many years the company grew and developed and in 1996, the Fisher Space Pen was named the best stocking filler that year by Good Morning America which had a huge impact on sales.
The following year, the Fisher Space Pen received even more rigorous testing and positive advertising for the pen when the Everest North Face Ski Expedition publically made use of the hardy little writing tool.
Whether climbing mountains, exploring outer space or scribbling a reminder on a post-it note, the Fisher Space Pen will take you anywhere you need to go.
The Fisher Space Pen at The Hamilton Pen Company
Astronauts and Cosmonauts have used the Fisher Space Pen on missions to space since the late 1960s and since the OG Space Pen, Fisher has developed several iterations of that game-changing writing instrument. The Shuttle pen, for example, was developed and used on NASA space shuttles and on the Russian Mir space station. Do not dismay though, you do not need a lifetime of intensive training and high level education to own your very own space pen though! Don your space suit and head over to the Hamilton Pen Company online store and take one small step for man…by purchasing a Fisher Space Pen for your own missions!