We all do this. While talking with friends, we make this statement about some obscure factoid and spout it out, never knowing if the factoid is actually true or not. In today’s world, it’s a little easier to prove points and find out the real story, but sometimes it’s rather difficult. Especially when the story is so old, or there are no clear records, like yesterday’s post I made about Laura Secord. No one really knows what she took with her on her 20 mile walk, and no one even knows if she actually did take the walk, or if it was even her first hand information that was told to FitzGibbon warning the British about an American invasion.
Such is the case with something I read about a lot, and it’s one of those things drummed up to make one group look really foolish and another to actually look smart by using the simplest of things. The story I’m talking about has to do with writing implements and space exploration.
As the story goes, which is kind of an anecdotal joke, the American space program spent millions of dollars in order to create a pen that could write in zero gravity. Meanwhile, the Russians just used a pencil. That story is partially true. Partially, in that yes the American space program did spend a lot of money to create a zero G pen. And partially true that the Russians did use a pencil. In truth, the Americans used a pen as well. That was the first tool used to write with, it made sense, it was simple and many believed it to be cheap. But there was a problem with it. Pencils break, and in zero G, a broken lead just free floats and has the danger of getting into equipment, into people’s eyes, into places where you don’t want it. That can have disastrous results. Think of it like that broken lead bunging up one of the major systems in the space capsule that is to ensure safe return to Earth, or, lodging in a space suit and thus not making it air tight.
So the reason why millions were spent was actually because the simplest thing, ie; the pencil, was not necessarily the most practical.
This story is an example of a myth that is turned around to make one group look like a bunch of idiots, while another gets to be smug and smart. In truth, the American space program spent the millions on an anti-gravity pen because pencil lead in zero G was dangerous. It’s always good to check on stories, but, it’s sometimes good fun to relay these classic tidbits. Just don’t be too surprised to learn if these tidbits aren’t actually just a huge load of bollocks.