This is from a lesser known bicycling publication and has nothing to do with cycling, but a good story anyway. It's re-created here without permission.
I was in the masters program in interactive telecommunications at NYU about five years ago. We were talking after class about the fact that the old adage, "necessity is the mother of invention", is true only in times of war; the rest of the time, the reverse is true. Most technology is developed long before there is any practical need or use; for example, the fax machine was invented over 120 yrs ago.
When we do use technology, it's not always the best solution; sometimes we use it because we just spent a fortune developing it. And now to the story:
In the early '60's NASA quickly learned that pens do not work in zero gravity environments, yet astronauts were spending a significant portion of their orbital times in communications blackout, so a solution was needed. NASA commissioned the Fischer pen company to develope a pen that could work in space. Throwing themselves into the project, Fischer engineers believed the best solution was to create a pressurized ink cartridge that would push the ink out regardless of the influence of gravity. The concept required experimenting with a tiny piston within a chamber so air pressure could push the ink into the roller chamber; the constant pressure meant that the ink would need to be different, slightly thicker viscosity so it didn't just flow out of the tip;and the new ink viscosity meant the ink had to have a different, more consistent pigment grain size, while the roller (ball) would need to be etched with a microscopic "brain" pattern to deliver the new ink smoothly on tight fiber surfaces like smooth, thin paper (similar to air mail stationery for the same reason-weight). After three years and considerable expense, Fischer succeeded in creating a pen that would work in space;it soon became a "must have" item for American aerospace engineers.
The Russian astronauts used pencils.
PS. Maybe this is what keeps me on a single speed....
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