The pen of urban legend

The pen of urban legend

31 days of cult classics | Modern Mrs Darcy

Some people take their pens very, very seriously.

I’m one of them, and I understand how great pens attract cult followings. But among these pens, the Fisher space pen stands in a class by itself: it’s a great pen, sure, but it’s also the stuff of urban legend.

fisher space pen

The story on Snopes goes like this:

During the space race back in the 1960’s, NASA was faced with a major problem. The astronaut needed a pen that would write in the vacuum of space. NASA went to work. At a cost of $1.5 million they developed the “Astronaut Pen”. Some of you may remember. It enjoyed minor success on the commercial market. 

The Russians were faced with the same dilemma. 

They used a pencil.

Pen geeks don’t care about the Russian’s pencils, but American taxpayers will be happy to hear that’s not exactly what happened back in the 60s.


Though rumored to have been developed by NASA, the Fisher Pen Company is actually the entity that spent a million dollars developing a pen that could be used in extreme conditions of outer space. (Pencils are no good, because they break, sending their fragments orbiting through the spaceship, and can burn–an obvious hazard after the fatal fire aboard the Apollo 1.)

In 1965, Fisher created a pen that worked in a vacuum, with no gravity, and in blazing heat and bitter cold. Two years later Fisher sold NASA 400 space pens for $2.95 each. Those pens were aboard for the Apollo and Skylab missions.

If you don’t want to spend $16 on a space pen, the Pilot G-2 has a devoted cult following and costs about a dollar.

I’ve never used a space pen, but I have one on my Christmas list. (I have a thing for good pens.) What’s your pen of choice?

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This is the eighteenth post in a series, 31 Days of Cult Classics. You can click here to see a list of all the posts, updated everyday in the month of October.


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23 comments | Comment


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  1. I LOVE this post! I’m SUCH a pen nerd – its kind of an infamous quirky quality that most of my friends and family tease me about. I’m actually going to do a 31 Days post about pens coming up. (My blog is under new design contruction for a little longer today).
    I’ve heard lore about this pen, and thank you for the link – b/c I just added it to my list.
    I just recently came into possession of my first cross pen. I always balked at their crazy high price, but I found one on clearance when the box had been previously ripped open, and wow–I now know what the fuss was about. (Here’s the link to that pen: )
    I also am loving a pen I found at Office Depot recently – a German made pen – Schneider. It’s thin with colored ink like a ‘le pen’, but its got a larger and softer barrel grip that I really love. (They are cheaper at Home Depot, but here’s a link for them in Amazon:

    So glad I’m not alone in my seriousness and love of a great pen! 🙂

  2. BG says:

    I had one of those in Jr. High. Pretty neat concept, but I never did try to use it upside down or underwater. I wonder if I still have it somewhere… I bet it still works.

  3. Liza Lee Grace says:

    Zebra F-301 for me!! I love them. Stainless steel barrel, textured hard plastic grip, smooth writing ink with a thin line. And cheap, so it’s no biggie if I lose one. I always have one or two of them with me because I’m allergic to the rubber comfort grips most pens have. People think I’m a snob, but I’d rather be a snob than deal with an allergic reaction! I also like the Sharpie pens. Then again, I have thing for Sharpies.

    I used to want an astronaut pen. A real one. I grew up near the space center in Florida and you could get cheap knockoff astronaut pens at the visitors center. They wouldn’t write upside down for very long. You were cool if you had a real one. You were a dork if you had the knockoff one.

  4. Tracy S. says:

    My oldest daughter and I love the Pilot Precise V5 extra fine in black.

    My son only wants the Pilot G-2 pens. My husband , however, loves the Zebra F-301 like Liza. I buy him a dozen for his Christmas stocking every year and he is the only one in the family who is allowed to have them. That way he can easily claim his property.

  5. Clara says:

    I’m not necessarily a lover of “good” pens, but once I find one I like, I stick with it. That usually lasts a year or two until I find a new favorite. Currently my favorite is a bic click stick, medium in blue. I will have to check out the zebra pen mentioned above, it looks really nice.

  6. Tim says:

    You’ve touched on a sore subject for me, Anne. Last week at the judicial conference I mislaid a Cross pen my sister gave me when I graduated from high school. Aaugh!

    • Melissa says:

      yes the seinfeld episode is what got us hooked on the Fisher Space Pen! My husband gave them to all his groomsmen in our wedding (they all happened to be fellow Seinfeld nerds so they could appreciate the gift)

  7. Louise says:

    Ooh, pens. I love trying new pens, but I always end up coming back to my beloved Pilot Precise V5s. I really can’t write anything more important than a grocery list with anything else. My husband uses the G2s, and those are a decent substitute, but forget trying to do creative writing with them.

  8. Katie says:

    I love my space pen – the best thing about it is that it fits in a pocket with no chance of leaking. Since I don’t carry a bag and have toddlers around so can’t leave pens unattended at home this is the only way I get to always have a pen with me!

  9. Erin says:

    When I was a kid all the cool kids used Dr. Grip pens. I always wanted one. I recently bought one at the office and I am hooked. They are about $5 each, so not the cheapest (also, why this kid didn’t have one in school).

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