A Cheap Ballpoint Pen Is All What You Need To Write In Space

from the those-amazing-ballpoint-pens dept

Roland Piquepaille writes “Today, I had a big surprise. Like many people, I always believed that it was impossible to write in space with ordinary pens because ink would not flow. So imagine my astonishment when I read “Pedro Duque’s diary from space” this morning. Pedro Duque is an astronaut since 1992. Now, he’s on board of the International Space Station (ISS) since October 18, 2003. And he’s writing — from space — with a cheap ballpoint pen, like Russians apparently always did: “So I also took one of our ballpoint pens, courtesy of the European Space Agency (just in case Russian ballpoint pens are special), and here I am, it doesn’t stop working and it doesn’t ‘spit’ or anything.” Thank you Pedro! You just destroyed one of the only certainties I had in life. You’ll find more details on my blog, including a photograph of Pedro Duque working on ISS.” So, all those pens sold as being special “space pens” (even the ones that actual astronauts used) have all been a huge hoax? Way to go NASA!

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Comments on “A Cheap Ballpoint Pen Is All What You Need To Write In Space”

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Mike (profile) says:

Re: Don't Blame Nasa

My point wasn’t blaming NASA for the commercialization of the pen, but for not realizing that a standard everyday pen would work. If you read the snopes page, the legend is that NASA spent millions on developing the pen. That’s not true, but they DID still use the pen, when (it appears) a regular ballpoint would have worked.

eeyore says:


Russia didn’t always use pens. They used to use pencils until they started buying pens from Fisher like NASA does. The problem with pencils is that they produce graphite dust, which can cause electircal short-circuits. The Fisher “space” pen was developed with a pressurized ink cartridge so it would write at any angle and were developed in the 1940s. Regular ball-point pens use gravity to feed ink to the ball. Try writing upside down with your regular pen and see what happens. NASA tried the “everyday” ink pens on early spaceflights and discovered that the “everyday” ink pens of the era would not work in space.

Ellie says:

Not exactly - vaccuum vs gravity

It may not be exactly correct to say that the ink in ballpoint pens are fed by gravity. From what I understand, the rotating ball creates a small vacuum that sucks the ink down the barrel. However, if you try to write at an angle or upside down, there may be enough gravity pulling the ink the other way to cancel out the vacuum created by the ball. That’s why regular pens work in space – no gravity so no negative force to interfere with the vacuum created by the rotating ball.

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