Sunday, March 19, 2006

Did Russians Really Use a Pencil to Write During Space Travel?

The following story may sound familiar at first, but read on - it may not be the version you've heard!
There's a marvelous story of technology and consultants gone wild, developing the Fisher Space Pen. The story goes that the U.S. Government spent millions of dollars of taxpayer's money developing a space pen—a pen that the astronauts could take to the moon that would operate in the harsh conditions of weightlessness, extreme heat and cold. Technology rushes to the rescue, and develops a miracle pen that can write upside down in a boiling toilet.

The Russians, by comparison, decided to use a pencil.

A marvelous tale of an inappropriate solution, except for one small problem. It's not true. Both the Russian and the U.S. astronauts used pencils at first, but there was a danger of the leads breaking and shorting out electric components, and the wood of the pencil itself was combustible as well. In a pure oxygen atmosphere, that's a really bad thing. The Fisher corporation realized this and, at its own cost, designed the Fisher Space Pen, which it then sold to NASA at reasonable cost. After the disastrous Apollo One fire, NASA made the Fisher pens mandatory.

Fisher listened to the real requirement, even before the client knew it. In time, NASA came to realize that they were right. It was an appropriate use of high-technology to solve a very real problem.

If you found the above good reading (I sure did), you may want to check out the article The Art in Computer Programming By Andrew Hunt and David Thomas, at developer.*


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