According to a popular legend, it is said that during the height of the Space Race, NASA was hard at work trying to develop a pen that could be used in space. The standard ball-point pen relies on gravity to pull the ink to towards the ball, allowing it to write. Obviously, this design does not work in space. NASA reportedly spent $1.5 million (some sources say $12 billion) and finally developed a space pen. This pen could write upside-down or in zero-gravity, on almost any surface and would work even at temperatures below freezing or over 300°C.
The Russians were faced with the same dilemma – they used a pencil.
As entertaining the story of overthinking Americans is, it is a complete urban myth. Both US and Russian astronauts used pencils in the early stages of the Space Race, but there were many flaws with pencils. Firstly, it was deemed unsafe to write important official documents using an erasable writing tool. Secondly, wood is combustible and fire is potentially disastrous on a space mission. Lastly and most importantly, pencil lead is made of graphite and broken tips and graphite dust are commonly released when using a pencil. Graphite is an extremely conductive material and if the dust were to go into an electrical circuit, it could easily cause a short-circuit and spark a fire.
To solve this solution, Paul C. Fisher – founder of Fisher Pen Co. – invested his own funds (not the US government’s) to create a pen that used pressure-loaded ink cartridges, making it perfect for zero-gravity use. NASA approved of the pen’s effectiveness and not long after, even Russia imported about a hundred of these space pens for their own use.