How It's Made: Fisher Space Pens

A pen that's tough enough for space is crafted slowly, carefully, and with the utmost respect to the NASA-endorsed design.

If you're the kind of guy who likes to jot down his thoughts or sketch the occasional landscape, a trustworthy pen deserves a spot in your daily carry. And the way we see it, if you're gonna carry a pen, you might as well carry one that's got a boatload of interesting history behind it.

The Fisher space pen first saw the light of day in 1948. It was machined out of heavy, solid aluminum, and then fitted with revolutionary (for the time) tech: a pressurized ink cartridge, which was hermetically sealed and forced out by compressed nitrogen as the pen was used. That gives the thing two advantages over comparable non-pressurized pens: it can write three times longer, and it can write in just about any condition.

Upside-down, underwater, through mud and oil and sand... you name it, the Fisher space pen can write through it. Which was novel, but not especially important until the early '60s, when NASA recognized the value of the things and made them standard issue for any manned space flight. Unlike pencils, which leave behind dust and shards, or non-pressurized pens, which flat-out don't work in zero g, the space pen could handle writing in outer space no problem.

They're still made to the same astronaut-endorsed quality to this day, on some very heavy-duty machines.

That machine in the photo above is the MVP of the space pen's production line, and you can see a close-up of it here. It takes care of the bulk of the crafting process, including:

  • Drills the hole where the pen nib will be later be fitted,

  • Shapes a socket at the tip of the pen for the ball bearing to rest on,

  • Inserts said ball bearing,

  • Punches tiny holes into the bottom of the socket, which lets the ink flow through to coat the ball bearing,

  • "Coins" the steel tip of the pen, which revolves and shapes the tip to perfectly fit the socket,

  • And, finally, gives a final once-over to the pen to make sure nothing is jammed up.

And once that's all done and the pen has gone through a few other key steps of fitting the right internals into place, there's an extra process of quality control before anything can be called finished.

For taking a closer look at the process, the craftspeople use this extra intense microscope.

It offers a super close zoom of a pen's internals, so the ultra detailed craftsmanship can be verified before a pen leaves the factory.

After that's good to go, the pens can be packed up and shipped out — either to NASA to be loaded up onto the next rocket, or to you to put some extra punch in your daily carry.

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