Jim Mc­di­vitt’s Pen­cil, Apollo 9

Air & Space Smithsonian - - I Was There -

u A pop­u­lar anec­dote (even re­told on an episode of “The West­wing”) as­serts that NASA spent years and mil­lions on re­search and de­vel­op­ment for a ball­point pen that would write in space, with­out grav­ity to pull down the ink. The Sovi­ets, ac­cord­ing to the ca­nard, just used a pen­cil.

It’s a myth, alas. The Fisher Space Pen was de­vel­oped by a pri­vate com­pany. And pen­cils are flammable and would leave par­ti­cles of graphite float­ing ev­ery­where. But the story re­in­forces com­monly held be­liefs about govern­ment waste (and, ar­guably, the Sovi­ets’ more cav­a­lier at­ti­tude to­ward cos­mo­naut safety) and it has a good punch­line, so it sur­vives.

There is a ker­nel of truth to it: In 1965 NASA or­dered 34 me­chan­i­cal pen­cils from a man­u­fac­turer in Hous­ton, mod­i­fied to be lighter, stronger, and eas­ier to use with a glove. They cost $129 each, the equiv­a­lent of $961 in 2015 money. The pub­lic furor over the cost led to a NASA in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the writ­ing uten­sils used on Gemini 3. (Ac­cord­ing to Dwayne Day at , the real scan­dal was

The Space Re­view that the as­tro­nauts smug­gled aboard or­di­nary Pen­tel pen­cils as well.)

Here we have the Gar­land 35P, made of pol­ished chrome, a com­mer­cially avail­able twist-ad­vance model made in Coven­try, Rhode Is­land, with Vel­cro on the tip. Its es­ti­mated value at auc­tion is $4,000 to 4,500. A to­tal of 33 Gar­land 35Ps flew on Apollo mis­sions 7 through 17; 12 were taken to the lu­nar sur­face. One, be­long­ing to Ken Mat­tingly of Apollo 16, drifted out a hatch and most likely burned up in Earth’s at­mos­phere. Another one, used by Apollo 11’s Michael Collins, is owned by the Mu­seum. This one, owned by Scott, flew on Apollo 9.

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