I sometimes feel a bit for ballpoint pens. They're well meaning, useful and hard working. They're generally taken for granted and their otherwise good name has been sullied by an infestation of cheap and nasty versions - those dime-a-dozen packs which write the first two or three times and then cough and splutter to an inglorious end even though you can see that there is still plenty of ink.
The Ballpoint pen refill which has traversed the Galaxy!
It is the classic case of the baby (seriously handy, versatile pens) being thrown out with the bathwater (i mean, c'mon...it's a dollar for like 5 of them...what can you expect?). But as with all things, there is a niche section of ballpoint pens which deliver an amazing writing experience...enter Fisher Space Pens. I mean amazing in its etymologically faithful sense here of inspiring wonder and astonishment and awe - for what could be more amazing than going to space?! (check out the Astronomy Picture of the Day! and the most inspirational space video ever, narrated by the late great Carl Sagan)
In the 1950s, Paul Fisher invented a Universal Ballpoint pen refill. This was quite novel as it allowed one refill to fit into a myriad of different pens which operate on the 'Parker' twist action system. This is a style of ballpoint pen named after the pen makers Parker whose ballpoint refills work in a particular way. A Parker style ballpoint is one where the refill twists 90 degrees when it is pressed down and thus locks into position with the tip exposed. So, if your ballpoint pen refill has little notches on the side toward the tip, it probably works in this way.
The humble Apollo pen has seen some pretty amazing stuff!
Having conquered ballpoint pens on Earth, Fisher did what any man not content to rest on his laurels would do...he looked to the stars! Until Fisher came along, ballpoint pens had liquid ink refills and so they would only write in their 'down-right' position with gravity working to push the ink out of the pen. This would not do in the Zero Gravity environment of space and Astronauts and Cosmonauts were stuck with pencils on early space missions.
The Original Astronaut (and Cosmonaut) pen
Fisher invented a new refill which used 'thixotropic' ink. This is semi-solid until the friction of the ballpoint liquefied it and allowed writing. It is also pressurised (using nitrogen) so that gravity was no longer needed...the ink would always flow. NASA tested it (for two years...i guess thoroughness is NASA's bag but really...?) and since 1969, a Fisher has been on board all manned space missions, both Russian and American. That's right - Fisher's pen was so amazing that ideological conflicts were disregarded just to get to use it!
The Fisher Zero Gravity - super comfy rubberised barrel
And I know you may be thinking that "I'm not an Astronaut, I'm not going to be an Astronaut, I dont need to write anything in space, Fisher-Smisher." But like everything that goes to space, it comes back with amazing Terrestrial applications.
The Trekker - great for versatility!
Fisher pens can write upside down or on any angle (so you can lean against a wall and write something if there's no desk handy or you can fill in your Wall Calendar without getting annoyed by a failing pen). They can write on greasy or slippery surfaces. They can write on non-paper surfaces like plastic. Just to show off, they can even write under water, in freezing cold and in up to 121 degrees Celsius heat too.
The compact Fisher Bullet pen - the most popular Fisher pen
And if they can do all of that, just think how nicely they write in an air conditioned office (on earth) and with Rhodia paper. It's like the ballpoint pen of the Heavens!
The shuttle pen is all brass!
These tiny little pieces of humility have taken part in some of mankind's greatest conquests...all of those artificial satellites which orbit the earth (there are a few), allowing commercial, scientific and communications revolutions were launched by people taking notes and doing work with a Fisher...that's kind of cool. They probably played a part in bringing Space Food Sticks down to Earth as well (though I have a suspicion these aren't actually for Astronauts, from space or anything other than a standard chewy, awesome childhood snack)
The X-750 is super tiny - a great compact pen
But as we know, it's not so much about how cool space is or how amazing these pens' capacities are...it's about an awesome, reliable and versatile writing instrument for everyday on earth. They won't leak on aeroplanes, you can put them through the washing machine and they won't leak or explode, and they write every time. Perfectly, instantly, and without the slightest suggestion of complaint. They look great, they're compact, the materials used are sturdy and they can be used in situations as infinite as the Universe itself.
Fisher also trade-marked a comfy rubberised grip on the Trekker
Made in the USA, Fisher embodies the optimism and innovation of an era when things were done 'not because they are easy, but because they are hard'...where new discoveries were to be made with technologies not yet dreamed of and when the world, or rather, Galaxy, was forever changed.
Really cool packaging with Fisher Space Pens
So it may have taken a trip to the stars to do it, but the good name of Ballpoint pens does have it's champion and we all have awesome writing instruments for every situation of every day. Mission accomplished.