Jim Mcdivitt’s Pencil, Apollo 9
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.