Why Astronauts don’t use Pencil in Space?


Do you remember that scene from 3 idiots where Rancho the movie’s “hero” asks the director of the institute why didn’t the astronauts use a pencil instead of spending millions on an astronaut’s pen? The 3 idiots pencil in space scene was an attempt by the director to make Rancho seem smart and different from the other students. In hindsight, it looks like he was just an a**hole who didn’t know much about space pens and why they are used in Space shuttles.

The origin of the Space Pen

The first manned space flight took off in 1961. Soviet astronaut Yuri Gagarin became the first person in space orbiting the earth on 12 April 1961. US and USSR soon went for an all-out space race to land the first person on the moon- a race that the US eventually won.

Since computers at that time were very slow and incapable, astronauts had to do much of the maths themselves regarding the trajectory of the rocket. As traditional pens use gravity to let the ink flow down from the refill to the page, it was impossible to use them in zero gravity.

Can pencil be used in space?

In order to write in space, the astronauts used pencils as there is no need for gravity for a pencil to work. Pencils, however, are made of graphite, a crystalline form of carbon that is combustible. Graphite dust from the pencil could enter into electrical lines and potentially end a space mission. How Viru Sahatrabudhi from 3 idiots who could write with both hands at the same time did not know about this property of graphite is beyond me.

Fischer Space Pen

In 1965 the Fisher Pen company came up with a pen that could write in zero gravity. The pen had pressurised nitrogen that pushed the ink through the tip of the pen. Fisher Pen company was an independent company, it did not have anything to do with NASA. It pitched the pen to NASA in 1965 and by 1967 NASA began using it on their space missions.

By 1969 Russia also began using these pens on their space shuttles. Reportedly both NASA and The Soviet Space Company got the same discount for the bulk purchases of the Fisher Space Pen.

Can Anyone Buy a Space Pen?

Yes. The Fischer Space Pen is available to buy online and you can go to Amazon or Flipkart to buy the space pen. Below is a link to the Fischer Space Pen on Amazon.

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