Writing In Freefall?



The Legend

NASA invested millions of dollars developing a ball-point pen that would work in micro-gravity. The ink flows only if there is sufficient gravity pulling it towards the tip. To test this, try writing on your ceiling and see how many pages of “War and Peace” you manage. The Russians solved this by issuing cheap, plain old pencils. High-tech tax-money-waste and over-engineering versus budget practicality.

Great story. Not true.

The Truth (and then today’s musing)

According to Scientific American, Tycam Engineering supplied 34 mechanical pencils to NASA in 1965 at $128.89 per unit. Pricey, but only $4,382.50 in total. Nevertheless, the taxpayers objected. Loudly. Perhaps it was the first protest that could be heard from space.

The Fisher Pen Company spent its own money (reportedly $1 million) developing the “Anti-Gravity” Space Pen. After NASA’s initial hesitation due to the earlier protest, astronauts used it from 1967. (You can still buy one.)

The Russians actually used “grease pencils” (crayons) which are smudgy and produce thick lines. Graphite pencils run the risk of releasing highly-conductive and slippery dust or broken tips around the spacecraft.

Anyway, what would spacepersons write? Logs and timings and sciency-things…  Not a great e-book read.

Fiction In Space?

Chris Hadfield has famously recorded a hit song in space. Without detracting from that inspirational success, it was someone else’s song (David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”). No-one has yet reported writing a hit song in space.

And there’s no fiction. Not yet. That’s good news, because writing fiction takes time, and we are all paying for these brave and highly-skilled men and women to do sciency-things, not to write great literature. And I cannot praise those space adventurers enough for the sciency-things they do.


The Mars missions will involve around 8 months of extremely boring space travel. Each way. Perhaps that would be enough time to knock out a few short stories or even a novel, in between the work-shifts and writing sciency reports and chatting with news channels… A writer could post a novel in installments over the MarsWebNet, as Dickens and others did in the printed monthly magazines of their time. It would sell like Mars bars!

Remember, folks, you heard it here first.

(End note: At time of writing, the domain MarsWebNet.com is “available for purchase”.)

4 thoughts on “Writing In Freefall?

  1. This is a little depressing Andy. I’d never given too much thought to astronauts writing in space and now I’ll be preoccupied with the whole idea of how creative the government is a wasting my money. Sigh:) I guess 1965 is a bit far to demand claw-back, right? Though I have to admit that I’m a little jealous. These folks obviously have mounds of time they are trying to fill…wouldn’t that be lovely? I could get so much writing done in space…provided I had the right writing tool:)


    1. I personally don’t think the pens were too expensive, but then, I’m not a US taxpayer… Or rather, I am not at the moment. I will be when I publish my novels and when I visit on vacation. And I don’t begrudge the Mars-o-nauts some free bandwidth time as part of their 16 month trip, plus time on the ground. And it would be truly “Space Fiction”!

      However, that raises a thought. As America was founded on the principle of “no taxation without representation”, is it not unconstitutional to charge tax to non-voting foreigners? “Where’s the Justice”, indeed? 😉


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