How NASA's Anti-Gravity Pen Helped Put A Man On The Moon

At the height of the Space Race both Soviet and American astronauts faced an unforeseen challenge: taking notes when the lack of gravity rendered normal pens inoperable. The Americans reputedly "spent millions" on an advanced pressurised space pen while the Soviets — they simply brought pencils.

While this anecdote is really designed to illustrate the technical mindset differences between the US And USSR space programs it is based on a true story. The space pen NASA employed during the Apollo program wasn't designed by the government agency but rather the Fisher Space Pen Co. Paul Fisher, the company's founder and inventor of the universal ink refill cartridge, had reportedly sunk more than a million dollars and multiple years developing the "anti-gravity" AG7 pen when he submitted his design for testing in 1966. Two years later, Apollo 7 astronauts carried them into orbit.

The AG7 utilises a sealed cartridge filled with gelled ink that liquefies only when exposed to pressure, conveniently provided by another cartridge filled with inert nitrogen gas. The tungsten carbide ballpoint tip prevents interaction between the ink and the surrounding environment, meaning the pen can write upside-down, underwater, in temperatures ranging from -34C to 120C, and of course, in the weightlessness of space.

The Fisher Space Pen is still being made today, you can pick one up for $US50. As for the Russians' Space Pencils, turns out graphite and wood shavings make for an explosive mixture in the cramped, oxygen-rich interiors of orbiters — as the Apollo 1 fire illustrated — and have since been replaced with, what else, the Fisher Space Pen.

Check out the full story of America's fabled Anti-Gravity Pen over at the Smithsonian.

Pictures: Fisher Space Pens; USPTO


Comments

    .. and I have one in my pocket that I use every day :) AG7 ftw

    ''graphite and wood shavings make for an explosive mixture''...

    Really...? Really...?

    I suppose graphite conducts electricity, if graphite dust gets around. But I'd love to see the exploding pencil theory demonstrated.

    Last edited 19/01/13 9:13 pm

      I think he means graphite in it's powdered/splintered form.

      Even flour used in bread is explosive under the right conditions.

      OK, OK let me educate you. Graphite is combustible. A graphite fire is responsible for the majority of radiation released during the Chernobyl Disaster.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chernobyl_disaster

      ... dispersed large quantities of radioactive fuel and core materials into the atmosphere[19]:73 and ignited the combustible graphite moderator.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apollo_1

      Now look at the Apollo 1 accident where the capsule burnt on the launch pad due to a small electrical spark that combined with the 100% O2 atmosphere cause a massive and extremly hot fire killing all 3 astronauts on board.

      Now after this accident they no longer used 100% O2 in spacecraft. But it is still higher than standard.

      Now lets put all this together. small amounts of graphite float around in the cabin and make their way into switches and electrical wiring. Eventually it build up and causes a spark. apart from causing a potentially dangerous short circuit damaging vital equipment on the space craft, it can also cause a fire. Hence why NASA does not use graphite pencils in space.

      Last edited 20/01/13 7:59 am

      Wood shavings alone are bad. Factories with wood shavings have to keep the wood dust piles down to a certain size otherwise they spontaneously ignite. Wood dust has many similarities to say petrol vapour.

    Snopes calls fake on this anecdote:
    http://www.snopes.com/business/genius/spacepen.asp

      No it doesn't. Read it again.

        It's calling BS on the myth that NASA spent millions developing the pen, read the article yourself and don't be so damn rude.

          The article above is not saying that NASA spent millions developing the pen either.

          The space pen NASA employed during the Apollo program wasn’t designed by the government agency but rather the Fisher Space Pen Co. Paul Fisher, the company’s founder and inventor of the universal ink refill cartridge, had reportedly sunk more than a million dollars and multiple years developing the “anti-gravity” AG7 pen when he submitted his design for testing in 1966.

          Last edited 20/01/13 2:33 pm

            That's right. So then why did your comment disagree with the fact that Snopes calls fake on the anecdote?

              I... errr... ummmmm... Look! Something interesting over there!

                http://lmgtfy.com/?q=define+%22insufferable%22&l=1

                  Credit where credit's due: that was a great way to make a point.

    Mechanical pencils have been around longer than the space programs, in the USSR and everywhere... you may have snapped leads occasionally but zero shavings. I think most of that story is apocryphal.
    That pen would make a good dad present though!

      10 internet points for using the term "apocryphal".

      It doesn't necessarily invalidate the story. Perhaps they were around and nobody thought to use them until they had problems with regular pencils.

      You still get graphite dust in eyes & lungs causing medical problems, and little snapped leads landing across electrical points could lead to shorts & fires.

    Gravity exists everywhere, there is no lack of gravity. There is only lack of atmosphere! Astronaults are in free fall, but thw gravity in ISS is almost the same as the one in surface of Earth.

      Gravity is not a function of atmosphere. Atmosphere is a function of gravity.

      That is to say, the thickness of a planet's atmosphere depends on the planet's gravity (and also the temperature of the atmosphere), not the other way around.

      Last edited 19/01/13 11:35 pm

        But because their is mass in the atmosphere wouldn't it have gravity too.

          Certainly, in fact, this is how stars are born. But gas doesn't have the same density as Rock. The desity of Jupiter is 1.326 kg/m3 while Earth is 5,515 kg/m3. A body of gas the size of the earth would be blown away by solar winds.

        He is correct. The vessel, the astronauts and the ink in the pen are all bound by the Earth's gravity and they are all in a constant state of free fall. It is their speed and trajectory keep them at a constant height relative to the Earth. Gravity is everywhere, science is awesome.

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