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One challenge that you may not realize astronauts have in space are proper writing tools. This is due to the fact that astronauts often work in zero gravity conditions which can make anything other than a pencil or grease pencil problematic. Mechanical pens are a non starter because the dangers of broken pencil lead floating around in the craft. The pen is even more tricky. The ball point pen you normally use relies on the force of gravity to help deliver the ink. In a weightless environment they would simply not write.
Fortunately, a solution was developed relatively early in US space program with the Fisher Space Pen. It is also known as the astronaut pen. A lot of different urban legends have sprung up about the pen. One story claims that NASA developed the pen spending $11 million. However, the true story of the space pen is even more interesting. The pen was acutally developed at the price of $1 million by industrialist Paul C. Fisher. Mr. Fisher had already established a successful pen but wanted to in essence create the pen to end all pens. It would require fewer refills and be able to write under any condition without blotting. Mr. Fisher succeeded and NASA got involved when he asked the agency to test the pens in space. That is how they came to be know as the Astronaut pen.
The pen’s design is simple but effective. First, it use a special type of ink that is like Jell-O that is it becomes a solid when at rest but when a bit of perpendicular pressure is applied it become liquid for easy writing. To aid the delivery of ink to the fitted ball point the ink was also pressurized with nitrogen gas to act in the place of normal gravity. The pen proved to be quite effective and came to be even used by Soviet Cosmonauts.
The pen is a perfect example of how companies have worked with NASA to advance technology. There numerous other stories and it only proves the importance of space exploration not only for the expansion of scientific discovery and knowlege, but also for the advancement business. There are said to be about 2,000 different technologies that have been developed just from the space shuttle alone so you can see how big a role space exploration can play in advancing the innovation and perfection of technology for use in everyday circumstances.
If you enjoyed this article there are several others that you can enjoy on Universe Today. There is a great article about the benefits of space exploration. There is also an interesting article about technologies developed from the Hubble Space station.
There are also great resources on the web. There is a great article about the history of the astronaut pen on NASA.gov. Here is also a link to a site where you purchase one.
You can also check out Astronomy Cast. Episode 121 Spacesuits is quite interesting.