Fisher Telescoping Space Pen

The super-sturdy telescoping space pen

This site was written for geeks, and if you are one, you will already know that the Fisher Space Pen was invented by Paul Fisher for use in the space program. It uses a pressurized cartridge, and an extra-thick ink (which stops the ink from getting pressurized all over your space capsule). It can can write in zero gravity or a vacuum or sub-zero temperatures.

There’s a myth that America spent millions developing the Space Pen, while the Russians solved the same problem by using pencils. The truth is that both sides used pencils, and when the Space Pen became available, both sides bought it and used it.

Fisher makes a wide range of pens, many of them using the Space Pen cartridge. As a writer, I like to carry a pen all the time, wherever I go. The Fisher “Bullet” Space Pens are my favourite – not so much for their vacuum writing abilities (although you never know when you’ll have to write an urgent help message to your friends inside the spaceship), but because, with their smooth, rounded edges, they are comfortable to carry in a trouser pocket.

One of the problems with the regular Bullet pens, though, is the finish. The pens are made of brass coated with chrome, or coloured epoxy, or other types of surface. It doesn’t seem to matter what they’re coated with, though, because after a year or so of removing the pen cap and putting it on the back of the pen, the finish invariably wears off, and the pen starts to look UGLY.

The telescoping model is different. It’s made of solid aluminum, and is far more durable than any of the Bullet pens. Maybe the design isn’t quite as pleasing, but it’s about the same size as a Bullet Pen, about as good to write with, and easier to open with one hand. There seem to be two variations in shape – one has a rounded edge to the back, the other has a slightly more pointed edge.

The opening mechanism is unusual and extremely simple. The ballpoint cartridge slides into the centre part of the pen and never moves. In front of it, a metal collar can pull back to uncover the pen tip. A plunger on the back connects to a steel pin which runs through to the front of the pen. When you pull the plunger, the collar retracts, and you can write with the pen. Press the plunger down again, and the collar extends back over the point. The fact that you have to pull to write, not push, makes this pen perfect for a pocket, because it won’t open accidentally.

So, how is it for writing shorthand? Well, there are pros and cons.

First the cons. The Fisher ink is fairly thick. It requires ve-e-ery slightly more effort to move across the page than some pens. It takes a fraction of a second longer to start writing than other ballpoints. It seems to dry more quickly – sometimes, if I make a dot, I get nothing. I’ve also had my share of dud refills which develop a slow, oozing leak. I could return them to Fisher for a free replacement, but I can’t be bothered. I’d rather they just didn’t leak. There also seems to a problem with tolerances for refill diameter. I’ve bought some refills that were too loose to fit the Telescoping Space Pen (although they would work fine in the other Space Pens). If you get this pen, and buy a refill, take the pen with you and check that it fits before you leave the store.

But on the plus side, the range of Fisher refills is amazing. The best thing about them for shorthand purposes is the range of widths – Fine, Medium or Bold. Wide tips used to be a common option, but in the last few years they’ve become harder to find as people chase after finer and finer points. The bold refill from Fisher is really good for getting a range of lines, from thin to thick. The range of ink colours is impressive, too. It includes not only the usual black, blue and red, but also green, burgundy, turquoise, purple, brown, indelible blue, and silver. There’s even an ultra-violet ink so you can send shorthand messages to bees.

I’ve had this pen for several years now. The logo has worn off, but the aluminum surface doesn’t show any other signs of wear, and, although it cost more than some of my other Fisher pens, it’s by far the most durable, and is good value.

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