Friday, May 8, 2009

Tales from the Past

A friend of mine shared this story with me and I thought it was worth passing along. During the space race back in the 1960's, NASA had to address the problem of how astronauts would write in the vacuum of space. At the cost of $1.5 million dollars they developed an "astronaut pen", which went on to enjoy success in the commercial market. Proving that ingenuity can solve almost any problem. The Soviets, faced with the same problem used pencils.

Its a funny story and worth pointing out to our community that applies considerable brain-power to solving problems. Be wary of the complex solution to a given problem, Nature loves simplicity. Always consider the possibility of a good, cheap and simple solution, right?

Apparently the rest of the story validates the pen development. Initially, NASA used pencils just like the Soviets did, but the leads sometimes broke and became a hazard floating in the zero-gravity environment of the capsule. Also, the lead and wood could burn rapidly in the pure oxygen atmosphere.

Paul Fisher realized NASA needed a safer writing instrument and so in 1965 he spent a million dollars of his own money (applause for the free market entrepeneur) developing an all metal pen with sealed pressurized ink cartridge. The ink has a flash point of 200 degrees c, satisfying the need for a writing tool that wouldn't burn in pure oxygen. Fisher sold 400 pens to NASA in 1967 for $2.95 before they went on to great commercial success. By 1968, the Soviets were using them as well.

So keep on innovating

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