How The Fisher Space Pen Helped Astronauts, Armstrong and Aldrin, Return Safely from the Moon
By Carl W. Ritter
Financial Editor, The San Diego Union
It’s a story that hasn’t circulated outside the inner circles of the U.S. Space program, but a ball-point pen helped the original Moon-Landing astronauts, Neil Armstrong and Edwin (Buzz) Aldrin get back to Earth.
A spokesman for NASA recounted the story for Paul C. Fisher, whose company, Fisher Pen Co. of Van Nuys, manufactured the pen.
Up there on the moon, when the astronauts were climbing back into the LEM module, the life support system backpack brushed against the plastic arming switch and broke it. The switch was to have activated the LEM’s engine for the module’s rendezvous with the mother spacecraft.
Armstrong informed Houston’s Space Centre by radio. A scientist went to on the problem immediately by snapping off the plastic switch on a simulator and studying the possibility if reaching a tiny metal strip inside.
The strip had to be flicked over to one side to activate the LEM engine, but Ground Control knew the astronauts had dispensed with tools in the interest of less weight. It was learned that the astronauts had their Space Pens, so they were advised to retract the point and use the hollow end of the pen to catch hold of the metal strip
workings and the astronauts lifted off from the moon…
The story came out after John McLeish, a NASA public relations official, was quarantined with Armstrong and Aldrin upon the astronauts’ return from the space trip. He told Fisher of the emergency in the Moon, related to him by the astronauts. “If it hadn’t been for the Fisher Space pen, the Astronauts, Armstrong and Aldrin, might still be up there on the Moon.”
“On July 19 1984, at a NASA dinner held at the Windsor Court Hotel, New Orleans, Louisiana, to commemorate the 15thanniversary of man’s first landing on the moon, Dr. Buzz Aldrin confirmed to me that they had used the Fisher Space Pen as a tool to turn on the broken arming switch which activated the jets which propelled the LEM module from the surface of the moon. They were thereby able to rejoin the Apollo 11 and return safely to Earth.” – Paul Fisher
The early astronauts used pencils for note-taking because a normal pen – ball-point or not – won’t work in space, but the graphite used in the pencils could break off, float around the cabin and become lodged in electrical switches, jeopardizing their personal safety as well as the mission.
Fisher developed what he called his “Space Pen” with the astronauts in mind; a pen that would write under weightless conditions.
Research cost over $1 million, but eventually Paul Fisher came up with the pen that would write in the vacuum of space, under water, in 400 degrees Fahrenheit heat and in the freezing temperatures of 50 below zero. The key was a new kind of ink.
Fisher developed a visco-elastic ink with adhesive qualities. It has the consistency of thick rubber cement and will not ooze around the ball even under pressure. It tends to liquefy when friction is applied to it. A pressurized ink cartridge, using nitrogen gas, pushes the ultra-heavy ink against the pen’s ball point.