The Truth About the Million-Dollar Space Pen – Explained

space pen AG7

Did you heard about the story of a space pen which said to be invented by space agency NASA and millions of dollars are spent on it. Same thing also featured in a Hindi Movie 3 Idiots when Professor giving speech to the students and told about this million dollar space pen. Well Read the article to the inner reality of this matter.

Back in the 1960s, NASA spent several years and millions of dollars developing a pen that could write in outer space.

Their Soviet rivals, on the other hand, when faced to the same problem, they just used a Pencil.” As usual, the truth is more complicated:

First of all in the early days of spaceflight, both american astronauts and cosmonauts used pencils during their missions. and secondly NASA didn’t design that pen. It was invented by american pen manufacturer Paul C.Fisher.

The space pens were a much better tool for the job – so much so that the cosmonauts started using them too. But there are lots of stories about the space pen floating around the internet, so let’s get down to earth.

You might think a pencil would be a handy writing tool on earth and in space, because it is erasable, and doesn’t have any liquid that can leak and float around a spacecraft’s cabin. But one thing you might be forgetting is that it does have wooden shavings and flecks of graphite that can get everywhere. Including instrument Panel and your eyeball. 

Pencils are also flammable, which is the last thing you need in an oxygen-rich environment, surrounded by tanks of rocket fuel.

But there is another question you might ask and that is then why we didn’t give ball-point pens to astronauts? Well let me tell you why we didn’t.

The pen we use on earth needs gravity to create a steady flow of ink. If they aren’t pointing down, they don’t work. Let me give you another example associated with it.

Suppose, if you have been lying on your back, trying to write in a notebook over your head. You know that you might as well be scribbling with an empty straw. So NASA started looking for a better solution to help astronauts write precisely in space.

Paul C.Fisher, of the Fisher pen company, brought his AG7 anti-gravity pen to NASA’s attention in 1965, after he spent a million dollar in research and development. He just wanted to make a pen that wouldn’t leak, and started dreaming up new features like – Working in extreme temperatures.

One of the pen’s main feature was a pressurized ink cartridge, which forced the ink out the tip, whether gravity was helping it or not. That way it could write upside-down, or even in the microgravity of space.

Early prototypes used vents in the body of the pen to pressurize the ink when you click the button on the top and extended the tip. Eventually, the pen were pressurized with nitrogen gas but forcing the ink out means that the pen ink could leak uncontrollably, which is the exact of what Fisher wanted.

So Fisher developed a special ink for his special pen.

By adding a little resin,The researchers turned the ink into a Non-Newtonian fluid: Which is a special kind of fluid that can change how easily it flows, or its Viscosity , when it’s under stress. Basically, sometimes it acts like a solid and sometimes it acts like a liquid.

There are lots of different kinds of Non-Newtonian fluids, but the ink which was developed by the researchers for the space pen is lot like a ketchup: When it’s at rest, it’s in a gel like state. But as you compress it or shake it up, it lowers its viscosity and flow more easily.

We call this type of Non-Newtonian fluid Thixotropic. So even when the ink is stored in the pressurized main cartridge, it’s thicker and won’t flow very easily. But when the ink is in the tight ballpoint socket and you push down to write, there’s even more pressure on the ink and this changes the ink viscosity. And lets it flow out.

NASA tested the AG7 pen for a year to make sure it worked, and in 1968, it flew to space for the first time, with the astronauts on the Apollo 7.

space pen AG7

Apollo Astronaut working with that Million Dollar Space pen.. Yeah ofcourse in space!


Fisher like to tell  story about how his pen helped with an emergency repair in space:

Apollo 11 Astronauts Neil Armstrong and buzz Aldrin accidentally break circuit breaker switch on the lunar lander, which they needed to turn on the ascent engine when it was time to leave. Fisher claimed that Aldrin stuck his space pen into the slot where the switch went to fix the problem.

But NASA astronauts also bring up other writing tool, like markers for different things.

But Aldrin said he used the felt tip pen instead of fisher pen to push the switch and start the engine. The marker’s plastic body is less likely to cause a short circuit than the metal body.


God knows what Aldrin used to push the switch but the above you read is the real story of the Million dollar space pen.

Also See –  Life On The International Space Station 

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