Similar to this question Did NASA invest a million dollars in the research of a space pen, when the USSR simply used a pencil? , but on another claim not asked/answered in the other answer.

When NASA first started sending astronauts into space, they realized that the ball-point pen would not work at zero gravity.

Is this true that normal ball point pens don't work in space / zero gravity?


That claim is false, at least in regards to current ball point pens.

Excepts from Pedro Duque's diary in space

I am writing these notes in the Soyuz with a cheap ballpoint pen.As it happens, I've been working in space programmes for seventeen years, eleven of these as an astronaut, and I've always believed, because that is what I've always been told, that normal ballpoint pens don't work in space.

But the other day I was with my Soyuz instructor and I saw he was preparing the books for the flight, and he was attaching a ballpoint pen with a string for us to write once we were in orbit. Seeing my astonishment, he told me the Russians have always used ballpoint pens in space.

So I also took one of our ballpoint pens, courtesy of the European Space Agency (just in case Russian ballpoint pens are special), and here I am, it doesn't stop working and it doesn't 'spit' or anything. Sometimes being too cautious keeps you from trying, and therefore things are built more complex than necessary.

  • Additionally, pencils actually pose a small risk of fire as wood and graphite are combustible, and graphite conducts electricity. – Rory Alsop Apr 14 '16 at 19:37
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    This answer debunks it for current ball-point pens (this diary entry is from 2003), but the claim is "When NASA first started sending astronauts into space", which was 50+ years ago. Is there any evidence whether ball-point pens have changed in the last fifty years? – iamnotmaynard Apr 14 '16 at 20:13
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    @iamnotmaynard en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bic_Cristal it appears that bic pens, THEE ball point pen, has been the same since 1961, with only a minor change over their 1950 model. while we cant verify which brand of pen he used in space, the tech behind ball point pens appears to be fairly standard across the board. and since nasa was looking for pens after 1964 based on the other question i linked, these pens already existed, that should have worked. – Himarm Apr 14 '16 at 20:21
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    Since it is easily verifyable on earth, that many (most?) ball point pens won't work if held upside down, I doubt that the claim is completely false. – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Apr 15 '16 at 10:55
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    @Tor-EinarJarnbjo a ball point pen does not need assisting gravity to work, it needs gravity to not go in the wrong direction. In orbit there is no gravity in the wrong direction. I would guess though that you can write for longer (use more of the ink) when assisted by gravity, but I do not know if that is true. – Bent Oct 14 '16 at 10:23

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